On Wednesday, the Boston Globe ran a piece about Chelsea, MA, and their welcome of young immigrants. Boston Globe op-ed by Marcela García
On Monday I had the privilege of participating in a conference call with Cristosal people, especially Noah, José, and Hannah.
Here are some notes from that call published by Hannah.
2 Emblematic Cases of the Human Rights Office:
Program Director José López presented two cases the Office is currently working on:
A Dangerous Precedent: Salvadoran Family Sued for Negligence
An 11-year old Salvadoran boy was found at the Mexico-US border, and with encouragement from the US State Department, deported back to El Salvador. The Salvadoran government has now charged his grandparents with negligence. As international governments, especially the US, pressure the Northern Triangle countries (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) to take action, the Salvadoran state has chosen to place responsibility entirely with threatened families, rather than accept responsibility for its own failures to ensure citizens their most basic right, the right to life. The Human Rights Office is pushing for legislative reform stating that the government cannot cite the Child Protection Act in emergency situations, including the current crisis. This reform would protect families threatened by violence from further government prosecution, and force the Salvadoran government to take productive actions addressing the structural causes of violence that force families to send their children in the first place.
Ensuring Safe Passage: Protecting Those Who Come Forward
The Human Rights Office is partnering with the University of Central America (IDHUCA) in the case of a single mother looking to leave the country after her 16-year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped, and killed by a gang in 2012. The same gang also kidnapped, tortured and then returned her 11-year-old son who now refuses to share what had happened to him. The same gang is responsible for 4 similar murders of young women in the same community. The mother now receives daily threats from the gang, who believe she is the one pushing a current police investigation.
If a conviction is made, the family will likely be killed. (They currently live under curfew, traveling only to work or school and returning straight home). Cristosal and IDHUCA have arranged for the family to receive asylum in the care of a Jesuit community in Europe, and are now seeking the financial resources to send them. The airfare and seed money needed for each family member is about $2,000, or $10,000 total for the family of five. Currently, the entire family lives on about $6 a day in El Salvador. Finding the resources to leave El Salvador becomes even more urgent as a conviction can happen any day.
- Who are the bad guys here? Is it the gangs?
Yes, for the most part Salvadorans are fleeing the region due to gang violence. Specifically young men flee as gangs recruit new members, killing those who refuse. Rival gangs also extort and threaten marginalized or poor Salvadorans in a larger fight for territory and power.
This presents a huge immigration issue, since refugee status can only be given to those fleeing war or political violence, not civil conflict (as the current situation is defined). Yet we cannot forget these individuals are refugees, in that the state has failed to ensure the safety and security of its citizens, forcing them to seek it outside the nation’s borders.
- Is the current crisis linked to drug trafficking?
- What else might be causing the current crisis?
- What are international agencies doing in El Salvador to help?
- Honduras has declared a humanitarian crisis. How is this different from El Salvador?
Current gang violence is due both to drug trafficking and a general fight for territory. We also have to remember this is a structural problem, stemming from El Salvador’s long history of violence including the Civil War in the 80s. Even after the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, a lack of social spending, especially in economic development and resources for youth, has played a major role in the increase of violence. First it is important to acknowledge this is an incredibly complex issue, and not a temporary blip in immigration rates. Along with widespread regional violence, there are several factors that encourage families to send their children abroad unaccompanied:
- Following the 2000 earthquakes, Pres. George W. Bush created a Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Salvadorans already in the US. After 9/11, however, immigration laws became much stricter, making it more difficult for relatives, namely parents, to travel back to El Salvador and see their children. As regional violence increases, these children are now being sent north to be with their parents.
- Families have very little access to information about the immigration process. Coyotes in the Northern Triangle capitalize on this lack, and often encourage parents to send their children alone, highlighting that they are treated differently as minors and granted a temporary stay rather than instantly deported back to the country of origin.
Though there are political and legal factors contributing to the current crisis, it is still critical to recognize that the majority of minors are being sent because families believe a child stands a better chance of surviving the journey northward than if they were to stay in their own country. These are calculated decisions made by individuals with no other options. Cristosal is working with the US Embassy and Salvadoran foreign ministry to develop a formal policy position that would reduce the current crisis and reduce incentives for individuals to travel northward. This position includes:
- A new Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for unaccompanied minors in Central America. Similar actions have been taken in Haiti and Cuba, and would reduce current backlog and overcrowding in the detention centers.
- Create a system where individuals can solicit for asylum from their country of origin. Currently individuals must travel to the US and can only ask for asylum once they arrive.
By declaring a humanitarian crisis, Honduras qualifies for specialized international assistance, and Honduran citizens qualify as refugees. El Salvador has not acknowledged the crisis, as this would admit the state’s failure to protect its citizens. This omission not only affects Salvadorans who would otherwise qualify for refugee status, but also fails to recognize the crisis as anything more than an immigration issue rather than a regional emergency. Yet, to put the current crisis in perspective, death tolls in the Nothern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) exceed those at the height of the Iraq insurgency.