"News that the Obama Administration is considering a plan to round up Central American families and deport them proves, once again, that this Administration fails to understand these individuals are refugees seeking asylum and should be given humanitarian protection rather than punishment," said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council."We must stop treating these families as though they are criminals. It is not a crime to arrive at our borders and request protection, and the overwhelming evidence indicates that these families have legitimate claims under U.S. law."
Johnson has said that DHS is "expediting removal" of those who are deemed ineligible for asylum or refugee resettlement. But the decision about who is eligible for classification as an asylee or refugee is a hugely political one that has always deliberately disadvantaged those fleeing violence and repression in Central America and Mexico.
During the Central American civil wars of the 1980s, for example, Guatemalans and Salvadorans were categorized as "economic immigrants" (despite evidence of genocide, massacres, wholesale disappearance, and widespread human rights abuses) and the approval rate for asylum cases was 3 percent (compared to 60 percent for Iranians, 40 percent for Afghans, and 32 percent for Poles during the same period). Much has been written, in retrospect, about the inability of the Reagan administration to categorize the Central Americans as refugees/asylees given that the U.S. was materially and ideologically supporting the governments from which the petitioners were fleeing.
Today only 4 percent of asylum claims for Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans are successful despite the fact that El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the world. In August it supplanted Honduras as the murder capital of the world, pushing Honduras to number 2: Guatemala rings in at number 6. The violence in those countries is partially a legacy of the bloody civil wars, partially the unimaginably violent narco culture of Salvadoran and Guatemalan gangs — which originated in Los Angeles, from where they were deported back to Central America. The Obama administration's support (after the fact) of those who orchestrated an unconstitutional coup in Honduras in 2009 has also contributed to an enduring sense of impunity that feeds the violence in that Central American nation.
Mexicans — some of them fleeing violence greatly exacerbated by the U.S.-Mexican "war on drugs" — are also rarely granted asylum in the United States. Aljazeera noted in an article in July that nearly 9,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in 2014, only 124 people were granted that status and some of those were applicants from previous years. By comparison, the article states, "4,773 Chinese citizens applied for asylum and 3,976 were granted refugee status" in 2014.
By its almost blanket refusal to grant asylee/refugee status to those from Central America and Mexico, the United States violates the U.N. refugee convention and protocols of which we are a signatory: "A refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom. This protection may not be claimed by refugees who are reasonably regarded as a danger to the security of the country, or having been convicted of a particularly serious crime, are considered a danger to the community."
Other rights contained in the 1951 Convention include: The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32); The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article 31); The right to work (Articles 17 to 19); The right to housing (Article 21); The right to education (Article 22); The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23); The right to freedom of religion (Article 4); The right to access the courts (Article 16); The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); and the right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28)."
In April of 2015, Johnson put into place the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which purports to restrict ICE detainers to "special circumstances,” including cases in which the individual poses a risk to national security or has been convicted. But according to the the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), during April 2015 only 32 percent of individuals on whom detainers were placed had been convicted of a crime, only 19 percent had a felony conviction, and nearly two-thirds had no criminal conviction of any type. This supports what immigration advocates have long claimed: that the majority of those targeted by PEP (and Secure Communities before it) are ordinary folks (whose illegal entry or overstaying a visa is a civil, not criminal, offense) who cannot "reasonably (be) regarded as a danger to the security of the country," or be "considered a danger to the community."