Recently, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a border security appropriations bill, while the House of Representative adjourned for August without responding in a viable way to the Obama administration’s request for emergency funding to address the issue of child refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.
As border communities in Arizona who’ve witnessed the most damaging effects of twenty years of militarization and security-first approaches to immigration policy, it was both alarming and unconscionable that the Obama administration and congressional actors from both parties would use a refugee crisis involving vulnerable children to advocate for greater enforcement along the border; militarization of the countries from which these children are fleeing; and expedited deportation by gutting safeguards that ensure due process. Such actions were prone to exacerbate an already tragic situation, driving more children to risk their lives; emboldening Homeland Security agencies and private prison companies that have an established record of abuse; and diminishing the due process and humanitarian protections to which these children are entitled under U.S. and international law.
We, as a country, must be better than this. As representatives of Arizona’s border communities who’ve witnessed this refugee crisis first-hand, we wish to affirm our commitment to human rights, and demand that any future appropriations or policy reforms prioritize the well-being and due process afforded to those vulnerable individuals who come to our country seeking protection. Such actions should increase accountability and transparency from the law enforcement agencies tasked with enforcing immigration laws, particularly U.S. Customs and Border Protection. And they must address the widespread and structural violence affecting the poor in Central America by addressing the economic conditions that fuel this violence, while holding governments accountable for human rights abuses. Congress and the administration can begin by:
- Ensuring that all unaccompanied minors with cases before an immigration court are provided legal counsel;
- Directing appropriations to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than to Customs and Border Protection in order to ensure that these agencies transfer children within 72 hours out of CBP custody and into HHS facilities, as required by the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act;
- Rolling back plans to expand family detention for vulnerable children and their mothers;
- Repealing Section 302 (the expedited removal provisions) of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, to ensure that asylum claims are adjudicated by a qualified judge rather than by a CBP agent in the field;
- Creating a transparent independent oversight body to review CBP practices and investigate allegations of abuse;
- Providing for time and counseling before court proceedings begin so that traumatized children have access to necessary care; and
- While Congress fails to act, diverting money to manage this crisis from enforcement budgets, not from funds intended to protect other refugee populations.
Children and families should not be used as an excuse to further militarize our communities on the southern border. We ask our allies and supporters across the United States to join us in insisting that the above policies and principles serve as the basis for the United States’ response to the current refugee crisis, and that these be incorporated into any future appropriations or reforms to border and immigration policy.
Arizona Sonora Border Coalition
Humanitarian Border Solutions, Bisbee/Naco
Kino Border Initiative, Nogales