At Summit of the Americas, Leaders Must Confront Refugee Crisis

by Marselha Gonçalves Margarin, Advocacy Director for the Americas, Amnesty International USA.

Across the Americas, we’re witnessing record numbers of people forced to flee their home. Families are making the dangerous journey through Mexico to escape violence in Central America. Colombia still has the second highest internally displaced population in the world. People are risking their lives to flee food and medicine shortages in Venezuela. Hundreds of Cubans have crossed Central America on foot trying to reach the United States. And in the U.S., Haitian families too afraid to wait and see how the Trump administration’s anti-refugee agenda unfolded have sought refuge in Canada.

This crisis requires a committed regional solution. At this week’s Summit of the Americas, leaders from across the hemisphere must come together to urgently address the refugee crisis while also protecting people’s fundamental human rights. Failure to act on this humanitarian emergency could endanger thousands of people who only want to rebuild their lives in safety.

In the United States, we’ve already seen the impact of discriminatory policies that disproportionately affect people seeking protection. While this summit marks a missed opportunity for President Trump, the U.S. impact on the region has already been significant. Vice President Pence will represent an administration has essentially closed the door to people seeking safety, while his administration takes coordinated steps to criminalize immigrants and asylum seekers.

Since ordering an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protected people who arrived as undocumented children in this country, thousands of people have lived their lives in limbo while they await possibly being forced out of the only country they’ve ever known.

By ordering an end to Temporary Protected Status for people fleeing unstable conditions in El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua, more than 300,000 people are at risk of being deported to countries where they may face significant danger. This is a devastating betrayal for those families who arrived at the United States seeking safety as well as their U.S. citizen children.

Another catastrophic blow to refugees and asylum-seekers arrived with the end of the Central America Minors Program (CAM), which allowed some children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to reunite with their parents in the United States.

The latest indicator of the administration’s disinterest in solving the refugee crisis comes from the recently passed spending budget, which includes $1.6 billion for border security and $641 million for new fencing and levees. If implemented, building fences and levees would make it harder for people fleeing violence and persecution to reach safety. Not only that, the budget deal fails to provide a solution for immigrant families who call this country home.

It is appalling that the Trump administration is willing to disregard hard evidence that people who have lived in the U.S. could be at increased risk of extortion, gender-based violence, and even death if returned abroad. But while the United States must do better to respect human rights, other countries across the Americas also must do their part.

Mexico is increasingly granting asylum to people fleeing from Central America, recognizing that vulnerable families should be able to live in safety. Mexico also joins countries like Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama in applying a “comprehensive regional protection and solutions framework” to address forced displacement issues in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. While these measures can sometimes feel like a band-aid on an open wound, they still represent incremental steps toward solving a humanitarian crisis. But more must be done.

We can no longer turn our backs on the refugee crisis in our own backyard by sending desperate people back to certain danger. Instead of working with our neighbors to tackle the root cause of the refugee crisis in the region, President Trump’s rhetoric and discriminatory policies could give other leaders cover to close their doors. Leaders across the Americas must set a better example and instead confront the refugee crisis with concrete and compassionate solutions.

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