Administration Offers Mixed Messages for People Fleeing Desperate Circumstances

Communications Associate

January 8, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address.

The president is likely to address our broken immigration system and the need to welcome refugees from war-torn countries. But enforcement operations focusing on recent immigrants from violence-plagued Central American countries, which the New York Times has called “a shameful round-up of refugees,” make for a difficult juxtaposition.

As the Washington Post points out, with deteriorating conditions in Central America, the flow of asylum seekers from the region has markedly increased in recent months. “Experts say violence is one of the main reasons that migrants are fleeing El Salvador and neighboring countries such as Honduras and Guatemala,” the Post reported.

And many of the immigrants targeted in recent raids will be sent back to countries with extremely high levels of violence, as the Huffington Post has reported: “Gang violence in El Salvador, in particular, grew worse since [2014], when a truce between the nation’s largest gangs fell apart,” and El Salvador was poised “to overtake Honduras as the murder capital of the world.

“Honduras also still has problems,” the piece continues. “Militarization that led to the reduction in murders also led to more alleged abuses by soldiers, including murder, torture and rape. Political instability plagues Guatemala.”

“The homicidal brutality in Central America has spawned a humanitarian disaster, but the administration has been treating it as a Texas border-security emergency, and a political headache,” the New York Times editorializes today. “ … The administration should have long ago begun building routes of escape for families in danger, with safe havens and in-country screening for those seeking resettlement, in the United States or elsewhere in the region.”

Such screening should be consistent for anyone fleeing civil war and strife, and they should have the same ability to seek refuge here, no matter their country of origin. These and other policy solutions are possible.

“People who have fled violence in Iraq and Syria deserve the welcoming hand that Americans always extend so compassionately to those in need. But so do people who have fled violence in El Salvador and Honduras,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “Our political leaders, including the president, must refocus on these values.

“We should be welcoming those who pass the extensive security measures in place to screen refugees, and ensuring access to due process at every step of the way. The state of our union is stronger when we lead with compassion and assist refugees and asylum seekers, no matter where they were born.”