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June 25, 2014

How to Manage the Increase in Families and Protection Requests at the Border

Over the last few months, national attention has focused on the increase in Central American migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley after crossing the southern border. These migrants, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, include unaccompanied children, parents with children, and adults. Some are seeking to reunite with family in the United States. Many are fleeing violence and persecution in their home country and have requested asylum or other protection in the United States. A rise in murders, rape, violence against women, kidnappings, extortion, and other brutality is prompting many people to flee their homes, often in fear of gangs and drug cartels. Smugglers and others engaged in criminal activity seek to exploit the situation, often spreading misinformation to lure some families into paying them to transport them or their unaccompanied children to the border. 

On June 20, 2014, World Refugee Day, the Obama Administration announced a series of steps to address the surge at the border. In addition to announcing new aid for programs in Central America and Mexico to address gang violence, rule of law deficiencies and reintegration of returned migrants, the administration announced “additional steps to enhance enforcement and removal proceedings.” While the details were not specified, the administration stated that it was “surging government enforcement resources to increase our capacity to detain individuals and adults who bring their children with them and to handle immigration court hearings – in cases where hearings are necessary – as quickly and efficiently as possible while also protecting those who are seeking asylum.” This announcement signaled a rise in detention of children and their families as well as the potential for rushed asylum hearings. 

This report focuses on the importance of strengthening the U.S. asylum and immigration processing systems based on a foundation of fair and timely, but not rushed, individualized assessments so that each person apprehended or detained on entry at the border is appropriately managed once inside the United States. This approach is especially important to ensure that the United States is extending proper protections to those fleeing persecution. The recommendations below are informed by Human Rights First’s research along the border, including visits to key border points, border patrol stations and immigration detention facilities in Arizona, California and Texas – and by Human Rights First’s June 2014 comprehensive blueprint outlining the steps the United States government should take to address the increase in requests for protection at the border. As noted in that blueprint, any strategy to deal with the crisis at the border starts with attention to the impunity and rule of law deficits that are driving many to flee in search of protection. This report outlines recommendations relating to U.S. immigration policy which should accompany those efforts. 

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