Listen to a recording of the press call here.
Washington, DC—Conditions in the Northern Triangle Region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras) have deteriorated in recent months, leading to an increased number of unaccompanied minors reaching our Southern border. Despite heightened rhetoric surrounding the issue—this is not a border crisis. These are young, vulnerable people pursuing their right to asylum under domestic and international law.
Following a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue, policy experts gathered today to discuss the current state of play of the humanitarian crisis brewing in Central America and outline steps the U.S. can and should take to ensure due process protections for those seeking asylum, as well as to address the root causes of the instability causing them to flee.
Said Megan McKenna, Communications Director at Kids in Need of Defense, “The lack of protection offered to unaccompanied children from Central American has received a lot of attention lately, but what hasn’t received enough attention is the fact that unaccompanied children who flee to our country are dealing with a system that is flawed to begin with and was never designed to deal with the unprecedented numbers of children coming into it in since late 2011. The recent debate has brought into focus a population that is uniquely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and whose protection this country has never addressed properly. Despite this vulnerability, only a small number of these children receive social services or proper legal representation. The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act introduced by Sen. Harry Reid would ensure lawyers for these children, and is a positive step toward combating the Administration’s enforcement first approach. Many of these children are fleeing gang violence from which their government cannot and will not protect them from—they are refugees. To date, our government has refused to recognize this danger, and the very real result is that we are sending children back to grave danger, and in many cases death.”
Said Jennifer Podkul, Senior Program Officer, Migrant Rights & Justice Program, Women’s Refugee Commission, “Rather than implementing policies that ensure the rights and safety of asylum seekers, the Administration’s response has been focused on deterring people from coming in the first place. In doing so, the U.S. government is limiting access to due process that would help Central American women and children explain their situations and take advantage of the protections afforded to them by our legal system.”
Dilsia Acosta, whose son Wildin was recently detained on his way to school in NC said, “For my son to be deported means that he would be deported to his death. Like the other students who have been detained, my son has goals and dreams for the future. They’re not criminals, they’re not gang members, they’re kids who are fleeing for their lives. We hope that President Obama will open his heart and the students will be released.”
Durham Educators’ Association President Bryan Proffitt added, “Immigrant students are not the causes of our problems. We refuse to stand by and allow them to be painted as the enemies of our school. My favorite part of my new job is spending time in elementary schools where I watch young people work together and build friendships across social barriers of race and nationality and class in ways that very few adults practice in this country. Our kids are naturally openhearted, but when students hear that their peers represent a threat to the security of the United States, this creates tensions in our classrooms. We teach our students to love themselves and support one another in our classrooms, and we reject policies and practices that undermine that lesson. Wildin and his fellow students have missed too much school; it is time to bring them back.”
Listen to a recording of the call here.