WASHINGTON – So-called safe third country agreements between the United States and Latin American nations are nothing but bullying tactics by the Trump Administration that are causing increased human rights abuses, rampant militarization, and lack of due process as other governments attempt to serve as an extension of U.S. immigration enforcement.
This was the conclusion from a Refuge for Families delegation that visited Guatemala and Mexico earlier this month. Members of Refuge for Families, a transnational partnership working to address and develop a humane and unified movement responsive to the plight of migrants along the Central America-US corridor, found overcrowded detention centers, heard stories of longer more dangerous journeys, attacks by police and the military against human rights defenders.
“What we saw during our trip convinced us that third-safe-country agreements are destructive to migrants. Until we address the root causes of why people are fleeing their home countries, people will continue to migrate. We need to have a system to protect those who seek refuge if we want to lay claim to being a beacon of freedom and democracy,” said Oscar Chacon, executive member of “Refuge for Families” and an executive director of Alianza Américas, a network of 50 organizations led by Latin American and Caribbean immigrants who represent more than 100,000 families throughout the United States.
“There have been numerous reports of the deplorable, inhumane, and cruel conditions migrants face in detention camps in the United States, and we saw this in Mexico as well,” said Yanely Rivas, Refuge for Families Coordinator.“A Haitian man died in the Siglo XXI a day before we arrived after being apprehended for 20 days, and sick for 15 of those days. According to local human rights defenders, he died pleading and screaming for help will in solitary confinement. Help never came. Local activists confirmed that at least one Haitian baby has died and there have been suicides in the detention center. This is all a direct result of policies that seek to further export our U.S. immigration enforcement apparatus to Latin America, countries who do not have conditions to provide refuge or humanitarian protection.”
The full report can be found here but among its main conclusion delegation members found:
- The delegation held 10 meetings in two days in Guatemala. Civil society organizations all expressed extreme concern about the new “Asylum Agreement” negotiated between outgoing President Jimmy Morales and President Trump. Their concerns included the complete lack of transparency regarding the terms of the agreement and the lack of capacity to implement the agreement without egregiously violating human rights. It is clear that Guatemala cannot be a safe third country for people seeking refuge.
- Civil society groups are working under difficult and dangerous conditions, with very little or no budget, protocols, or plans from the government to address the critical needs of migrants and with no capacity for taking on additional work.
- Guatemala does not have a formal program for migration detention, yet it is holding more than 150 people in the Albergue de la Dirección General de Migración in Guatemala City. This facility is designed to provide short-term “accommodations” to no more than 100 migrants who do not have required travel documents but has become an overcrowded defacto migrant detention center. Human rights violations at the facility are commonplace, according to representatives from the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (a government agency). This agency takes on some of these human rights abuse cases but cannot address the magnitude of problems inside this facility.
- According to Juan Francisco Soto, the Executive Director at CALDH, a human rights legal action center, human rights defenders continues to be targeted at alarming rates. Soto shared that in this year alone, 28 human rights defenders/activists have been killed, double the amount of people murdered this time of year in 2018. Most of these defenders were leaders in the fights against government corruption and extractive foreign corporations that steal ancestral land and plunder natural resources. Corruption and unbridled extractive fuel forced displacement and lead to internal and external migration.
- CICIG, the agency established in 2007 to oversee the eradication of governmental corruption, will be officially dismantled next month, leaving no real oversight or accountability mechanism to fight against government corruption or impunity for government officials. This agency was funded in part by U.S. foreign assistance, but the current administration has shown no interest in protecting it.
Refuge for Families, led by the National Partnership for New Americans (NPNA), the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), Alianza Americas and We Are All America, We has worked to uplift and educate the public on the underlying causes of migration in the region and supports accountable, citizen-led foreign policy strategies addressing the causes of exodus along the Central America-US corridor.