Featured Issue: Central American Refugee Response

Read AILA’s June 2016 report: Due Process Denied: Central Americans Seeking Asylum and Legal Protection in the United States (AILA Doc. No. 16061461). This AILA report highlights how our government’s current response undermines due process for asylum seekers. AILA recommends specific actions that the President or Congress can immediately take to restore due process and ensure that families and other vulnerable individuals are not returned to life-threatening danger.

In the summer of 2014, the steadily increasing levels of violence and insecurity in the Northern Triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) reached peak levels and erupted into a regional humanitarian crisis. Record numbers of unaccompanied children and families were fleeing, and not only to the United States. Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize all experienced a 1,185% increase in asylum applications from nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras between 2008 and 2014. Though President Obama initially called for a humanitarian response, soon thereafter he called it a border security problem demanding a deterrence strategy. In late 2015, the number of Central American families crossing the border increased again. In the last week of December 2015, The Washington Post and other news sources widely reported that DHS intended to do roundups nationwide to deport Central American families.

On January 4, 2016, DHS Secretary Johnson confirmed that 121 adults and children were apprehended in raids during the New Year's weekend across the country. Two months later, on March 9, 2016, Secretary Johnson announced that ICE had been conducting "Operation Guardian Border" since January 23, 2016. According to the Secretary's statement the operation had apprehended 336 individuals, most of whom had entered as unaccompanied children after January 1, 2014, and are now over 18 years of age.

On May 12, 2016, Reuters reported that immigration authorities are planning another surge of arrests aimed at families and unaccompanied children (UACs) who are 18 years of age or older. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that these operations "are limited to those who were apprehended at the border after January 1, 2014, have been ordered removed by an immigration court, and have no pending appeal or pending claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws." For the full text of ICE's official statement, see this Fox 11 Los Angeles news story.

"Rather than responding to the refugee crisis in Central America with an intelligent strategy to address the root causes of violence in the region, and to ensure that the victims of that violence who arrive at our border have a full and fair opportunity to seek protection, it is clear that the administration has decided to ramp up its indefensible strategy of deterrence through incarceration and intimidation," said AILA Executive Director Benjamin Johnson.

Administrative Efforts to Expand Protection for Central American Refugees

On July 26, 2016, the Obama administration announced new initiatives to aid Central American refugees, including a protection transfer arrangement with UNHCR and the Internal Organization for Migration (IOM), an in-country refugee referral program, and the expansion of the existing Central American Minors (CAM) program.

DHS Raids on Central American Families and Children

AILA Member Action Items Against the Raids

  • Unaccompanied Children Legal Call to Action:
    AILA is seeking members who may be willing (but not obligated) to provide pro bono legal services to unaccompanied children at the southern border, once the specific legal process and need for lawyers becomes clearer.

Congressional Calls to #StopTheRaids

Congressional Attempts to Undermine Protections for Asylees and Unaccompanied Children

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 14070148.