Kerry Should Address Plans to Better Protect Central American Refugees Fleeing Violence and Persecution

Washington, D.C.—As Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the 45th Annual Conference on the Americas this morning, Human Rights First urges him to address how the Obama Administration can better protect refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. Currently, the administration is dealing with this humanitarian crisis by holding women and children who seek protection in the United States in immigration detention, sometimes for months at a time, and encouraging other countries to prevent those seeking protection from reaching U.S. territory.

“The U.S. policy of detaining asylum-seeking families with children is unjust and inconsistent with American ideals,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “This policy, designed to ‘send a message’ to other asylum seekers and migrants, violates basic concepts of liberty and due process, as well as international human rights law. The United States should abandon this flawed detention policy and lead by example in the region.”

Some of the women and children fleeing persecution in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador have now been held in U.S. detention facilities for eight to ten months already. The week before Easter Sunday, mothers held at the facility in Karnes County, Texas launched a holy week hunger strike. The Houston Chronicle reported last week that 10 mothers at the facility had launched a new hunger strike to protest the detention and high bond policies.

The Obama Administration requested, and in March Congress appropriated, $345.3 million to fund a sharp increase in the number of mothers and children held in detention. The Dilley facility, run by Corrections Corporation of America, will cost the U.S. government about $300 a day per person to operate—amounting to roughly $260 million each year. By contrast, community-based support programs and other alternative measures, proven to secure appearance for immigration hearings and deportation, are much more fiscally prudent, costing only 17 cents to $17 per person per day. These programs—which are effective and cost-efficient—enjoy support across the political spectrum.

A recent poll conducted by the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies for Human Rights First confirmed that the public, including the majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents polled, supports the use of alternatives rather than detention. In a poll of voters in 25 of the most competitive congressional districts, as well as voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire, 62 percent said that rather than holding asylum seekers in jails and detention facilities, the United States should increase the use of alternatives to detention. More broadly, voters across nearly every major demographic, including party and ideological lines, believe the asylum and refugee system needs to be improved and strengthened to better protect refugees.

“As Kerry addresses the Conference on the Americas, he should take a hard look at our policies at home, and evaluate ways that the United States is failing to live up to our commitment to refugees and asylum seekers,” noted Acer. “He should also press other states in the region to incorporate effective procedures for identifying and protecting those at risk of harm if returned to their home countries, and lead a review of U.S. policies to ensure all U.S. efforts and dialogues in the region champion protection for refugees, rather than leaving them at risk of persecution, violence, and death.”

For more information or to speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at [email protected] or 202-370-3319.


Published on April 21, 2015


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