Asylum-Seeking Families at Risk Under Trump’s Aggressive Immigration Policies

In just over a month, the new administration has executed a multi-pronged assault upon refugees and asylum-seekers who need humanitarian protections that the United States can and must provide.

Legally, people who are on U.S. soil, and meet the definition of a “refugee” should be granted asylum protections. This means that they face or fear persecution if they were returned to their country of origin based on their race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

98% of CAM applicants report exposure to danger in communityThe U.S. has seen a dramatic rise in asylum claims in the past decade, largely fueled by escalating violence and widespread international gang activity that has created a deadly crisis in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, often referred to as the “Northern Triangle” of Central America. Families seeking asylum have fled the region at incredibly high rates. From 2008-2014, asylum applications increased over 1,000% in the countries that neighbor the Northern Triangle and rose 370% in the United States.

In FY2016, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended nearly 60,000 unaccompanied minors and 77,857 families nationwide, most at the southwestern border. Many of these families were Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service reports conducting nearly 100,000 credible fear screenings of asylum seekers in FY2016, with extremely high granting rates: nearly 80% of people that pundits and critics call “illegal immigrants” have a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Refugees from the Northern Triangle

In 2014, the Obama administration created a limited refugee resettlement program allowing some children in the Northern Triangle to apply for refugee protections and be reunited with a parent who is a legal resident in the United States. The program was touted as saving children the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico, and allowed them to seek asylum at the U.S. border. Since November 2014, there have been nearly 11,000 applications for the program and approximately 1,800 children have been reunited with their parents here in the United States with either refugee status or humanitarian parole. UUSC researchers spent the last year conducting research about how to make the Central American Minors In-Country Refugee Processing Program (CAM) even more effective and have direct testimony from CAM participants about the need for this life saving pathway to safety.

The children who use CAM are in imminent danger at the hands of gangs and corrupt police where they live. When asked why they applied for refugee status, CAM applicants have shared reasons like:

  • “I received threats from a gang member. Before that, two friends of mine who played on the same soccer team in which I played appeared dead . . . he told me that if I did not want something to happen to me or be killed, I should leave the neighborhood.”
  • “My fear sometimes is that my baby will get sick at night . . . no one leaves and if they leave they have to be accountable for where they go to the gangs. . . [my baby] suffers from epilepsy and I have to go for treatments in San Salvador, when we go we try to do everything fast, to return early . . . it is very difficult to live constantly with fear.”
  • “I am afraid to leave the house now because gang members meet outside my house . . . My family and I are in danger . . . if we do not give the [rent] they are going to kill one of us . . . you cannot live in peace.”

However, President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order suspending all refugee resettlement for 120 days likewise suspended CAM. While a handful of CAM refugees who had already been granted refugee status have been able to fly to the United States in the weeks since the 9th Circuit Court stayed the presidents’ executive order, the administration has effectively halted refugee processing. This avenue to refuge is now closed for thousands of Central American children who may have to begin their application almost from scratch when and if CAM is reinstated.

Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.
Part of the border wall in Nogales, Mexico.

With the refugee program halted, children will need to travel through Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border. There, too, the administration appears poised to cause immense harm to asylum-seeking families and children. DHS Secretary Kelly’s recent memos indicate that the department will:

  • Extend the border wall to make entry into the United States more difficult.
  • Deport asylum-seekers to Mexico or place them in U.S. detention centers while they await a decision on their case, placing families in inhumane prison-like conditions that we know causes lasting harm.
  • Strip protections for unaccompanied children that are guaranteed by law and charge parents with “human trafficking” for bringing their children to the United States.

Alarmingly, reports from El Paso, Texas, indicate that CBP agents have already turned asylum-seekers back from official ports of entry, denying them even the chance to make their asylum claim.

Ways to expand your circle of love this Valentine’s Day

a child working on a cocoa farm

Love is in the air this time of year, but something a lot less sweet is behind the chocolate and gifts many Americans are giving. Numerous corporations have promised to voluntarily end human rights abuses in their industries. Unfortunately, little has changed over nearly two decades in the chocolate and jewelry industry’s use of child labor and the garment industry’s unsafe working conditions.

BBC documentary filmmakers recently interviewed children in West Africa who said they’d been beaten and forced to work long hours without pay. When one was asked what he thought about people in other areas of the world enjoying the chocolate he harvested, he responded: “They are enjoying something that I suffered to make. They are eating my flesh.”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can help make a difference.

“Almost everyone I know will agree that they do not support child labor, yet only a small fraction of those consumers ensure that the products they are buying do not support child-labor practices,” says Manish Gupta, founder of Matr Boomie, who has over a decade of experience working for fair trade in India.

Here’s what you can do: Learn more about why fair trade matters and change habits.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Readings highlights focus on our work supporting immigrant rights, specifically Central American migrants.

Hundreds of Central American moms and kids released from detention in Texas, Esther Yu Hsi Lee, Think Progress, December 6, 2016

Hundreds of families were released from family detention facilities last weekend. Though Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims the release was not part of any court ruling, the release of families comes after a judge’s ruling that detention centers could not be licensed as child-care facilities. Advocacy groups are helping the approximately 470 mothers and children from Central America find temporary accommodation or get in touch with relatives.

The release of these families is a huge win for immigrant-rights groups. Many of them have come across the border fleeing extreme violence and seek asylum here in the United States. These families, including mothers with small children, are then locked up in detention centers with inadequate medical care, poor and restrictive conditions, and a “prison-like” environment. One of the family detention centers recently banned the use of crayons, a creative and healing outlet for children. Advocacy groups, including UUSC, are hopeful and continue to call on the Obama administration to end family detention altogether.

UUSC partner, RAICES, is currently looking for volunteers through the UU College of Social Justice. Learn more and apply here!

US Border Patrol uses desert as ‘weapon’ to kill thousands of migrants, report says, Rory Carroll, The Guardian, December 7, 2016

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the US–Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day.”

No More Deaths, a UUSC partner, and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos released part one of a report detailing how the “U.S. Border Patrol has engineered the death and disappearance of tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants by using the desert wilderness as a ‘weapon’”. The report, Disappeared: How Border-Enforcement Agencies Are Fueling a Missing-Persons Crisis, draws on over 500 missing persons cases and close to 60 border crossers. Since 1990, tens of thousands who have crossed the desert are still missing, including 1,200 in the last year.

In response to the report, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a statement blaming the deaths on lying smugglers. The statement defended their actions and pointed to their past attempts to search for missing persons.

The next two reports from No More Deaths and Derechos Humanos will continue to show how the border patrol has aided in the death and disappearance of migrants in the desert through destruction of vital water and food supplies left by humanitarian agencies. Click here to read the full report or take action now to end the crisis of death and disappearance.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

US detention facility restricts use of crayons for migrant children, Oliver Laughland, The Guardian, November 17, 2016

“It is extremely disturbing that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]’s concern for GEO’s property takes precedence over the well-being of the children and their mothers’ rights to legal advice.”

Karnes, a privately-owned detention center in Texas, banned the use of crayons stating it caused property damage. Barbara Hines an adjunct professor at the University of Texas and member of RAICES, which is a UUSC partner organization, stated “Treating a child’s color markings as ‘destruction of property’ is altogether inappropriate. And such markings are a cost that comes with the detention of children.”

Taking away crayons which children use for play and escape or as an outlet from their situation adds another layer of trauma that these detention center have on families, many who came here as refugees to seek asylum.

To learn more about the effects of detention centers on women and children, read our report No Safe Haven Here.

Hundreds of Rohingya try to escape Myanmar crackdown, BBC

“At least 130 people have died during a military operation in Rakhine state, where many of the minority live, in just over a month.”

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims are trying to cross over to Bangladesh because of increasing violence by the military. Some witnesses say that people escaping are being shot and killed, but Burma is not allowing any foreign journalists in to verify the situation on the ground. Rohingya Muslims, numbering around one million, are not recognized as Burma citizens and have been subject to discrimination for years.

Zimbabwean activists held before launch of emergency ‘bond notes’, Jason Burke, The Guardian, November 18, 2016

“Zimbabwe has been hit by successive waves of unrest in recent months, prompted by a deepening economic crisis, cash shortages and persistent high unemployment. The government has been repeatedly forced to delay salary payments to teachers, doctors, soldiers and administrators. The country is also suffering a severe drought and is threatened by famine in some parts.”

This article highlights the surge of arrests of social activists before the launch of bond notes, a controversial form of payment that many fear will further damage the economy. Many professions are receiving delayed salaries and banks are capping the amount of withdrawals people can take each day. With over 94% of the entire population engaged in the informal economy, UUSC has been supporting the training of informal workers on human rights in Zimbabwe.

Climate Advocate: Trump’s Racist, Anti-Science Worldview Will Make 1 in 30 People Worldwide Refugees, Democracy Now, November 15, 2016

“When we face climate crisis and all the other inequalities in the world, this is the moment we need more global cooperation, more solidarity, more justice and more empathy.”

In this interview by Amy Goodman, Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth International discusses the potential and likely consequences of climate change on refugees in light of a meeting between Donald Trump, the U.S. President-elect and Nigel Farage, one of the leading supporters of Brexit. Droughts and extreme weather are exacerbated by global warming. Many people are forced to leave their homes because of these environmental impacts – they can no longer grow food, natural disasters have destroyed property, etc. A perfect example of this mentioned in the above article illustrates how a severe drought has brought on famine in Zimbabwe.

The United Nations estimates that 1 out of 30 people will be climate refugees if we don’t take serious measures on climate change. This is becoming increasingly difficult as some of the nation’s top leaders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, are not only climate change deniers, but leaders that normalize a discourse of racism, hatred, and fear.

Diapers in Detention Week of Action

Along with our partners at Interfaith Immigration Coalition, UUSC is organizing a #DiapersInDetention week of action from August 29th – September 1st to put national attention on ICE. Here’s how you can help:

SIGN AND SEND A LETTER TO YOUR LOCAL ICE OFFICE VIA OUR ONLINE ACTION

Families fleeing violence have a legal right to seek asylum and their detention violates international human rights law. Now, instead of growing up with blankets and binkies, their children are behind bars and locked doors. Tell Your Local ICE Field Office: Jailing babies is the last straw. End family detention. Keep families together and free while they pursue asylum.

SUPPORT THE MOTHERS ON HUNGER STRIKE IN BERKS FAMILY DETENTION CENTER IN LEESPORT, PA

Twenty-two mothers who have been in detention with their children for up to a year have launched a hunger strike in protest of their protracted imprisonment. This follows a misleading statement by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson that, on average, families are released within 20 days. Call Thomas Decker of the Philadelphia Regional ICE office to demand their immediate release: 215-656-7164.

SEND A BABY SHOWER CARD TO ICE

If you are not near one of the ICE offices or a family detention facility, pick up a baby shower card at the drugstore, write a message that says “Baby jails are the last straw. It’s time to end family detention and keep families together. No more diapers in detention!” and send it to:

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Before you drop it in the mailbox, take a picture of it and tag it on social media with #DiapersInDetention, @UUSC, and @ICEGOV.

HOST A “BABY SHOWER” FOR ICE

If you live in one of the 24 cities with an ICE Enforcement and Removal Office, help organize a “baby shower” for ICE to call attention to the increase of babies and toddlers being held in detention. You can find a map of the offices here, and sign up to lead or attend an event here.

Events can be held Monday, August 29 – Thursday, September 1. A guide for organizing events is available, and national organizers will assist you with planning and media coverage. If you are interested in hosting an event, please do your best to register by August 12.

SEND A LETTER TO THE EDITOR TO YOUR LOCAL PAPER

Our partners at the Friends Committee on National Legislation have created an easy tool to help you write to your local newspaper.