AILA: U.S. Expands Protection for Refugees South of U.S. Border But Continues Harsh Treatment of Asylum Seekers at the Border

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) welcomed the Obama Administration’s announcement expanding opportunities for refugees in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to seek protection in other countries, including the United States, but continued to challenge the White House to stop the aggressive enforcement, detention, and deportation of asylum seekers arriving at U.S. borders.

The plans announced today by the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State include:

  • An agreement between Costa Rica, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and the International Organization for Migration, which allows refugees who have been pre-screened by DHS, and who are particularly vulnerable and in need of immediate protection, to be transferred to Costa Rica, up to 200 people at a time, after applying for refugee status in their home country of El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala. These individuals will be given temporary refuge until they can be processed for resettlement to the United States or another country.
  • Establishment of an in-country refugee referral program that will enable vulnerable individuals in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala to seek refugee resettlement in the United States after being screened by the U.S. government.
  • Expansion of the U.S. Central American Minor (CAM) program to enable the older siblings, biological parents, and caregivers of a qualifying minor to accompany the minor to the United States. To date, several hundred children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have been resettled under the CAM program in the United States.

AILA President William A. Stock noted, “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the Obama Administration recognizes the grave humanitarian situation in the Northern Triangle of Central America. For too long, the U.S. government has discounted the extreme and uncontrolled levels of gang violence and domestic violence, and astronomical murder rates in that region. Beginning in 2014, AILA member attorneys and volunteers have heard the accounts of thousands of mothers and children who fled imminent danger and persecution and has repeatedly urged the administration to provide a humanitarian response. As it implements these additional steps, our government must not lose sight of the need to also protect the families and children from this region who come to the United States.”

Benjamin Johnson, AILA’s Executive Director added, “AILA is deeply disappointed that the federal government continues to treat families who come to the U.S. seeking asylum as illegal border crossers rather than what they are – people entitled to fair treatment and, for many, a safe haven under U.S. law. The Obama Administration has created an unconscionable and unworkable divide in our refugee laws by continuing to engage in harsh enforcement practices against Central Americans asylum seekers who arrive at our borders while simultaneously providing humanitarian aid for the same vulnerable people who have not yet made the journey north. By doing so, this administration continues to endanger the lives of mothers and children rather than protect them. Refugee and humanitarian protection cannot end at our border.”

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The American Immigration Lawyers Association is the national association of immigration lawyers established to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 16072610.