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Central American Migrant Rights: The Situation and UUSC’s Response

By UUSC Staff on June 17, 2016

The Northern Triangle countries of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are seeing an exodus of refugees in numbers not seen since the 1980s. Among the causes of this exodus are alarming rates of homicide and gender-based violence, along with the power of organized criminal networks and failure of government authorities to protect their citizens from these threats. Unchecked gang violence, sexual and gender-based violence, and increasing militarization have eroded the rule of law and replaced it with an atmosphere of unrelenting danger.

Countries receiving Central American refugees – namely Mexico and the United States – have failed to uphold their legal and moral obligations to protect this population. Criminal networks in Mexico target refugees for trafficking and extortion, and Mexican authorities have failed to investigate the numerous cases of migrants who disappear while in transit. With backing from the United States, Mexico has repeatedly interdicted and summarily returned refugees without offering them a meaningful chance to claim asylum. Refugees who do manage to reach the United States are themselves deprived of their rights, facing expedited proceedings that violate due process. They are routinely detained in prison-like facilities, and have little access to legal representation.

UUSC’s strategy for addressing this crisis has three important components:

  • Address the root causes of forced displacement in Central America to prevent Central Americans from needing to escape.
  • Provide humanitarian assistance to in-transit refugees along the migration route.
  • Ensure due process for refugees requesting asylum once they arrive in the United States.

UUSC works with partners in Honduras and El Salvador to reduce gender-based violence and document the impact of increased militarization on women’s security. In Mexico, UUSC helps support a migrant shelter and an organization providing legal and psychosocial support for migrant victims of crime. UUSC is also among multiple supporters of a ground-breaking project to create a transnational mechanism for investigating the cases of disappeared and missing migrants in Mexico. In the United States, UUSC partners with organizations that document abuses by border security forces on both sides of the fence, and works with additional organizations to provide counsel for refugee women and children, and to address human rights violations within the immigration detention system.

Examples of UUSC Partner Organizations in our Migrant Justice Strategy include:

  • In Honduras, UUSC works with a coalition of 17 grassroots women’s organizations to confront gender-based violence through two objectives. The first is to document and raise awareness of the prevalence of gender-based violence and its linkages to organized crime, militarization and forced displacement, and to demonstrate the link between displacement and gender-based violence. The second is to support women who are affected by human rights violations by accompanying them through legal procedures, searches for housing, and efforts to protect their human rights, and to advocate for government mechanisms to ensure women’s access to justice.
  • Along the border between the United States and Mexico, we are working with the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) in Nogales to document abuses committed against migrants and recent deportees by Mexican authorities. The objective of this study is to publish a report to bring public attention to abuses committed against migrants and refugees by Mexican authorities, to offer policy recommendations and advocacy efforts to bring an end to these violations of refugees’ human rights.
  • Within the United States, UUSC is supporting CIVIC in California to build capacity for self-advocacy among detained migrants and asylum seekers. CIVIC is starting a national 24/7 hotline for immigrants in detention to connect with family members, receive attorney referrals, and challenge the conditions of their detention.

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