Those at our border are mostly refugees fleeing Central America. Recognizing this reality can lead to us durable solutions.
Those coming to our borders to seek safety are people who are fleeing gang violence, corruption, sexual violence, climate change and persecution. Until we recognize this fact, the perennial and simplistic “border crisis” framing will keep missing the point. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren said when introducing legislation last Congress to stabilize Central America, “The worst place to deal with a regional humanitarian crisis is at our own border. And we know that people are leaving for a reason.”
In a column in The Hill, Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress Dan Restrepo, and the former principal advisor on Western Hemisphere Affairs for to President Obama’s NSC, highlights five immediate steps the administration can take in the region:
…given the levels of despair migrants are fleeing, it is impossible to dissuade migration. Instead, the United States must urgently address the reasons people are on the move in the first place.
To understand why, we need look no further than the legacy of failure of 30 years of fear-based policies aimed at prevention — culminating in the intentional cruelty of the past four years. The number of migrants from northern Central America apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border rose steadily from the low tens of thousands in the early 1990s to more than 600,000 in fiscal year 2019.
First, the United States must marshal and deploy immediate, large-scale food assistance to those suffering the impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota — two ‘once-a-century storms…’
Second, those suffering from the impacts of Eta and Iota are also in need of immediate employment opportunities to root them in their communities.
Third, the people of the Americas cannot wait for COVID-19 vaccines — and certainly should not wait behind more geographically distant partners.
Fourth, potential migrants from the region — people in need of immediate protection, people seeking family reunification and people willing to fill gaps in the U.S. labor market — need alternatives to the dangerous, disordered journey north.
Finally, a strategy of hope requires sending unmistakable signals to the people of northern Central America the United States stands with them and not with the region’s corrupt, predatory elites that treat their fellow citizens as export commodities.
And in a column in Mother Jones, Fernanda Echavarri interviews experts who make similar points.
When it comes to the rise and fall of the number of migrants at the border, especially children, the US government seems to suffer from amnesia and scramble every time there is a ‘crisis.’
[quotes from Yael Schacher, an immigration historian and senior US advocate at Refugees International]…For the last decade ‘we’ve never had a year of fewer than 40,000 unaccompanied kids, so one would think that we would now understand that we are going to get tens of thousands every year unless we do something substantially different in their home countries or with a refugee resettlement program,’ Schacher tells me. We’ve done essentially nothing to create a system that makes it so that every year we don’t have to create influx shelters for children, she adds.
…the Western Hemisphere needs to also have a refugee resettlement program the way the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees works in other parts of the world—for example, she notes, someone fleeing Somalia can apply for refugee status in the United States when they get to Kenya. The system is not set up like that in the Americas… ‘We can’t say people should seek asylum close to home so they don’t have to take the dangerous journey if there isn’t a way to do that,’ she says.