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Home / Press Release / Tillerson, Kelly Urged to Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to Refugees at Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America
June 15, 2017

Tillerson, Kelly Urged to Reaffirm U.S. Commitment to Refugees at Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America

Washington, D.C.—As Secretaries of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security John Kelly meet today and tomorrow in Miami for the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America, Human Rights First urges them to set a strong example of the United States’ leadership on human rights by protecting access to asylum, respecting legal prohibitions against refoulement, and combating human trafficking in the region.

“The Trump Administration has yet to demonstrate a dedication to America’s core principles of standing up for the most vulnerable in society, be they refugees or victims of human trafficking. The administration's cruel refugee and asylum policies have set a poor example for other countries. Today’s conference is a key opportunity for the secretaries to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to human rights and that respect for rights is the backbone of effective security policies,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, who is currently in Mexico researching access to asylum, and has documented impediments to asylum in the United States.

As Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly discuss border security and stability in Central America, Human Rights First urges the United States to:

  • Address the displacement of people from the Northern Triangle through a regional protection initiative that supports access to asylum and resettlement across the region. Rather than responding to the arrival of asylum seekers from that region as a political and border security crisis, the United States should lead a comprehensive response that strengthens asylum and protection capacity in Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and other countries and supports resettlement initiatives for at risk refugees and children with U.S. family ties.  
  • Emphasize—through both words and actions—that adherence to and respect for international law protections on non-refoulement, access to asylum, and the safeguarding of the human rights of refugees and migrants is central to achieving better management of the regional refugee and displacement challenges.
  • Promote respect for non-refoulement and access to asylum in the western hemisphere, including in Mexico, at the U.S. southern border, and in Central America. The United States should ensure that funding and support for Mexican migration enforcement strengthens, rather than undermines, access to asylum in Mexico and greatly expands Mexico’s capacity to effectively identify, register, and process protection claims and to integrate those granted protection. 
  • Reform U.S. policies and practices to assure access to asylum, including at the U.S. southern border.
  • Reform U.S. policies to safeguard children, asylum seekers and other immigrants from detention that violates international human rights and/or refugee law.

This week’s conference will also focus on human traffickers, including those who take advantage of vulnerable individuals escaping violence and persecution. Human Rights First notes that according to the International Labor Organization, 3.1 million people, or 16 percent of the estimated 20.9 million people worldwide, are enslaved in Latin America and the Caribbean. Law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking are significantly lagging in the region. There were just 248 convictions across the entire region last year, representing only four percent of global trafficking-related convictions. 

Labor trafficking cases are rarely investigated and prosecuted in the region, especially within the Northern Triangle countries which all have forced labor issues in the agriculture and domestic servitude sectors. El Salvador and Guatemala also have forced labor in the textile industry. To address human trafficking in the Northern Triangle, the United States should robustly enforce section 307 of the Tariff Act, which bans the import of any goods produced with forced labor. The United States imports a significant percentage of each country’s industries that are at risk for forced labor. By enforcing the U.S. ban on imports produced with forced labor, U.S. importers and companies would have to work with their suppliers to ensure workers are paid and labor standards are met. This will also help identify labor trafficking cases to the national governments in order to prosecute these cases and deter future human traffickers.

For more information, see a recent letter sent from nongovernmental organizations to Secretary Tillerson ahead of today's conference. To speak with Acer, contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.