NEW YORK -- The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) objects to the President’s decision to detain and expedite deportations of thousands of children fleeing persecution and violence in Central America. The NLG also opposes any efforts by Congress to roll back critical human rights protections – such as the right of an unaccompanied minor to see an immigration judge – in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization. The Guild is disturbed that the Department of Homeland Security has continued to jail thousands of women and children in hastily erected family detention centers, despite reports of abuse. Detaining and deporting refugees is a wholly inadequate response by the Obama administration and ignores the root causes of this forced migration. The NLG calls on the Obama administration to: (1) adhere to its international human rights obligations and designate these children as refugees; (2) halt the expansion of family detention centers; (3) meaningfully respond to reports of abuse; and (4) provide counsel for children to ensure their civil and human rights are protected.
Many of these unaccompanied children describe systemic violence, enslavement, and trafficking in their home countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. According to the UN, the majority of these children reported a targeted fear, such as a death threat or attempted kidnapping, as reasons for their departure. The majority of these children faced an incredibly dangerous journey, often marked by robberies, rape, and assault, to seek refuge in the US and other countries in the region, such as Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The current refugee influx is not a new phenomenon. For the last four years, several immigrants’ rights and international groups have tracked an increasing exodus of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It is no coincidence that the countries generating the most refugees are on the direct receiving end of harmful US foreign policies, such as the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which eviscerated Central American economies; US government interference with democratic policies of leftist governments in Honduras and El Salvador; and US continued support for the “War on Drugs,” pushing cartels from Colombia into Central America.
One stark example of US implication in the recent crisis is its support of the 2009 military coup in Honduras, which gutted democratic and economic reforms, and its continuing support of the coup government. The NLG has sent three delegations to Honduras since the June 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected President Manual Zelaya: (1) shortly after the coup in August 2009; (2) as credentialed election monitors for the November 2013 elections; and (3) last month, on the fifth anniversary of the coup. Based on its interviews and observations, the NLG has consistently expressed its concern about the grave human rights crisis in the country.
It is unfortunate and telling that the US, despite signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child on February 16, 1995 – an international treaty supported by such broad international consensus that it was ratified by 193 of the 195 sovereign and independent UN members – has continued to tarnish its international reputation by refusing sanctuary to refugee children in their time of need. Smaller countries like Turkey, Kenya and Jordan have offered refuge to millions during comparable human rights crises. For the US, fifty-thousand refugees are entirely manageable.
The US has historically failed to take meaningful, humanitarian action in response to refugee crises. This is an opportunity for the country to change that trend. The United States must not abandon its self-proclaimed commitment to human rights when these children need it most.
Already, members of the NLG and its National Immigration Project have joined other groups in filing a class action lawsuit demanding that the US provide children with legal counsel and are investigating reports of abuse in detention centers. To help remedy this situation and prevent similar ones in the future, the Obama administration must redress US foreign policies that undermine democratically-elected institutions in Central America and fuel the ongoing human rights crisis in the region.
 National Lawyers Guild Honduras delegation reports available at: http://www.nlginternational.org/report/HONDURAS_FINAL_Prelim_Report_Eng_.pdf and http://www.nlginternational.org/report/NLG_Honduras_Election_October_2013_Report.pdf
 One case in point is from June 6, 1939, when the United States government turned away the MS St. Louis, a German trans-Atlantic liner carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing from the Third Reich, and forced them to return to Europe.
 https://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/unaccompanied-immigrant-children-report-serious-abuse-us-officials-during (last visited July 17, 2014)
(Photo: Eric Gay/AP)