Opening Doors for New Americans since 1882
United States, Once Again. Turns Its Back on Central American Refugees
Yesterday, Reuters reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would once more begin raiding the American homes of women and children who fled Central America, in order to deport them. These are people who seek refuge from the violence that has been erupting in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala over the last several years. We - lawyers and social workers providing services to this population - know that in their daily lives these children and family members were threatened and abused by local gangs, many of whom control entire regions where there is no police or local government intervention or protection. In fact, news reports indicate government involvement with these criminal enterprises.
A staff attorney at HIAS Pennsylvania, a non-profit immigration legal services and refugee resettlement agency, who has represented more than 50 of these children in the last year, started asking her clients to create a drawing about why they came to the United States. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.
One child drew a girl lying dead in a pool of blood with a gang member standing in the foreground with a bloody knife. Another child drew herself crying as a gang member pointed a gun at her head. Yet another child drew herself squatting down behind a house, watching her father mercilessly beat her mother in a country where there is no protection against domestic violence.
Countless drawings like these have been submitted as exhibits to immigration court and formed the basis for successful asylum and other immigration petitions; petitions that were filed so that these children can, finally, live safe from violence and trauma. All of our staff attorneys who represent immigrant youth as well as attorneys who do so across the country, have waitlists as they are without the capacity to assist everyone who needs representation as they try to navigate the complexities of our immigration system.
During the Central American civil wars in the 1980’s, the U.S. government denied asylum to thousands of deserving refugees from that region. One study in 1985 found that 130 deported Salvadorans – denied asylum under the Regan government’s policy of characterizing Central American migrants at the time as “economic migrants” rather than refugees fleeing persecution – were disappeared, tortured or killed upon their return to El Salvador.
Those who fail to learn from history, as we know, are doomed to repeat it. So how many of the women and children that ICE deports in the coming months are going to survive upon arrival in their native land?
What can you do? Sign the letter to President Obama prepared by HIAS, Inc. here.