Since October 1 of last year, approximately 60,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained while crossing into the United States, mostly coming from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. These children are fleeing violence in their home countries, and their arrival on our doorstep is a humanitarian challenge that demands an urgent humanitarian response from the United States government. The GOP supplemental fails to ensure that these children are guaranteed adequate protection and due process and are not being deported back to situations that threaten their lives and safety.
WOLA opposes this bill because it will endanger children rather than protect them.
The House bill strips protections for vulnerable children. Children from Central America are currently screened to ensure that they are not victims of persecution or human trafficking. The countries these children are fleeing—Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador—are some of the most violent in the world. According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, Honduras ranks first globally with a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 people. El Salvador ranks fourth with a rate of just over 41 and Guatemala ranks fifth with a rate of nearly 40. Homicide statistics are just one measure of the pervasive violence in these countries. Extortion, assaults, disappearances, and sexual violence are also widespread. Street gangs also contribute to a significant percentage of the violence. These groups sometimes employ “join or die” recruitment practices, forcing many children and youth to drop out of school or relocate.
The House bill will expedite the deportation of children who may merit refugee status before there is sufficient time to determine the specifics of their case and what dangers they may encounter if they are returned. Specifically, the bill fails to guarantee legal representation and adequate funds to support the proper and safe repatriation of children who are deported.
The House bill fails to address the root causes of child migration from Central America. Unless the factors that originally drove these children to flee are addressed, it is likely that many will attempt to return to the United States rather than become victims of their communities’ spiral of violence. The bill does not provide any funds to address the endemic levels of violence and insecurity that are driving children to flee their communities.
The House bill turns its back on the United States’ government’s commitment to human rights in Central America. Current law puts conditions and reporting requirements on U.S. security assistance to Honduras and Guatemala to protect human rights. The House bill explicitly removes human rights conditions on assistance to the Guatemalan military and Honduran military and police from the supplemental funds for repatriation and reintegration activities provided in this bill. This sends a dangerous message that the United States’ Congress no longer prioritizes human rights in countries where the State Department’s own human rights reports raise serious concerns about continued military and police abuses and participation in criminal activities.
Senate legislation provides alternatives that will address the humanitarian crisis and protect children.The legislation introduced in the Senate takes some immediate steps to invest in the protection of children and families. It also invests in civil society organizations that can hold public institutions accountable for results and invests to strengthen effective law enforcement, good governance, and the justice sector. In contrast, the House bill provides no funds for addressing the root causes of child migration.
We need to work with Central American countries to protect children and families from violence, trafficking, and abuse, and to ensure that returned children are not sent back to situations that threaten their lives.