NNIRR Urges President Obama to Act for Human Rights and Justice

Ensure Due Process and Humanitarian Support for Vulnerable Children and Their Families

The plight of tens of thousands of children crossing and detained at the US-Mexico border requires a humanitarian response, not another increase in immigration enforcement. This is a critical opportunity for the Obama Administration to take clear legal steps and fulfill this country’s obligation to provide humanitarian support and protection for these young victims, whose desperate situation is largely a consequence of economic failure in their home countries. These children need essential services and access to justice; they should have due process, liberty and family unity.

In an announcement yesterday, President Obama referenced this obligation – but immediately undercut that commitment by insisting on strengthening border enforcement and instituting a policy of expedited deportations. Obama’s proposed “surge” in border enforcement, to “deter” the risky migration of children, including plans to forcibly return them to their countries of origin, is not in the best interests of children, and undermines the important intent and purpose of refugee protection for vulnerable peoples.

In responding to this crisis, Obama cannot ignore the deep-rooted poverty of the Central American region and the accompanying violence that are the immediate backdrop. Nor should he dismiss the role and responsibility of the US, and the trade, military and drug policies, that have significantly contributed, over many decades, to the economic, political and social instability there. These “root causes” must be addressed.

The tragic truth remains that this flow of children seeking refuge is representative of displacements taking place around the world, where economic and political instability has uprooted hundreds of millions of people. It’s an instability that just doesn’t “happen” – it is largely driven by deliberate policies that have exacerbated uneven economic development, deepened poverty and denied social protections.

The current situation at the US-Mexico border is not isolated and has been brewing for years. Certainly we have known that children have also been among the thousands of dead migrants found in the desert. Children, too, have languished in immigrant detention centers. In its March 2014 report, Children on the Run, Unaccompanied Children Leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, called attention to the dramatic increase in asylum claims from the region, noting the role of violence and insecurity in leading to this pattern of displacement, with implications for foreign policy and international refugee protections.

The Administration’s response to this crisis should not be driven by congressional inaction on immigration reform nor border patrol and corporate-driven lobbying for more resources and enforcement infrastructure. In fact the Senate-passed immigration bill, and immigration reform proposals floating in the House were not a solution to this crisis. If anything, those proposals, if passed, would result in prolonged separation of families, more deportations, and a more dangerous border for those seeking refuge.

We strongly urge President Obama to act on the side of human rights and justice. We need to respond to this current flow of displaced people with access to due process, refuge and support. We should act in the best interests of children; unaccompanied children should not be detained, should be provided refugee status and placed with family members. Expedited removals and more deportations will not alleviate this humanitarian crisis.