Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Office of Public Witness Signs on to Letter Urging President Obama to Designate Norther Triangle Countries "Temporary Protected Status"

January 25, 2016
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

The undersigned 273 civil rights, labor rights, faith-based, immigrant, human rights, humanitarian, and legal service organizations respectfully request that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, designate El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (an area known as the “Northern Triangle”) for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). These three countries warrant TPS designation in light of the dramatically escalating violence that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing the Northern Triangle countries.
TPS is Grounded in Well-Established, 25-Year-Old Statutory Authority
Using clear statutory authority under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the DHS Secretary has currently designated 13 countries for TPS: El Salvador, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Per the statutory requirements of INA section 244(b), these designations are premised on an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent nationals of these countries from returning safely. Current designations for El Salvador and Honduras are based on environmental disasters in those countries dating back to 2001 and 1998 respectively, and therefore require TPS beneficiaries from those countries to demonstrate presence and residence in the United States since that time. More recent arrivals are ineligible for TPS.
TPS was created by Congress with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1990 to address gaps in U.S. immigration policy and regularize the process by which our government accommodated those gaps. Congress understood that a stay of deportation and employment authorization are necessary for nationals who are already in the United States but who cannot be deported safely due to temporary conditions in their home countries.
INA section 244(b)(1)(C) provides that the Secretary may base a TPS designation on a finding that “there exist extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety, unless the [Secretary] finds that permitting the aliens to remain temporarily in the United States is contrary to the national interest of the United States.” Each of the Northern Triangle countries clearly meets this criteria given the devastating recent uptick in violence.
Country Conditions in the Northern Triangle Merit TPS Designations
In 2015, the death toll in the Northern Triangle of Central America was 17,500, higher than in all but three zones of ongoing armed conflict: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. This death toll was higher than four West African countries struggling with the Boko Haram insurgency and even higher than the death tolls in Somalia, Libya, and South Sudan. Notably, this rapidly escalating violence occurred in a geographic region the size of the state of Oregon and home to just under 30 million people. To put this endemic violence into perspective, Honduras alone had more homicides than the 28 states of the European Union combined in 2014.
The causes of the violence are complex and fueled by lack of government accountability, capture of state institutions by organized crime, impunity and widespread corruption, control of territory by organized criminal groups, brutal militarized law enforcement practices, rampant inequality, and weak democratic governance mechanisms. Unsurprisingly, this violence disproportionately impacts women and children. For the last six years, the Northern Triangle countries have ranked within the world’s top four countries for rates of femicide, while El Salvador and Guatemala have the highest homicide rates in the world among children. The extreme violence is not limited to these groups, but pervades all corners of society and threatens many who return to these countries.
El Salvador
El Salvador, a nation of 6.4 million people, is racked by drug-fueled violence, with entire city neighborhoods controlled by powerful gangs known as maras. El Salvador recently overtook Honduras as the murder capital of the world. Officials recorded 6,657 people murdered in El Salvador in 2015, a 70 percent increase from 2014. The homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 people is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years. El Salvador's murder rate surged in 2015 due to increasing battles between security forces and the country's two most powerful gangs—the Barrio 18 criminal group and their rivals, the Mara Salvatrucha(MS-13). In August 2015 alone there were 907 murders representing the highest monthly toll since the 1980-1992 civil war. An estimated 75,000 civilians died in El Salvador's 12-year civil war, an average of 6,250 per year of the conflict—a figure below the number of homicides in 2015.
Guatemalans face epidemic levels of violence and a government that is unable and unwilling to protect them. The criminal insurgency by transnational criminal organizations and gangs against the state reflects a serious and pervasive armed conflict within Guatemala. Consequently, levels of violence have soared, making Guatemala’s homicide rate the fifth highest in the world. In 2012, Small Arms Survey ranked Guatemala third in the killings of women worldwide, even rivaling the rates of the country’s 36-year civil war.
Moreover, cumulative environmental disasters have plagued Guatemala including earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, drought, and landslides. Guatemala has declared a state of public calamity on various occasions and received limited international humanitarian assistance. In 2005, Hurricane Stan caused the death of more than 1,500 people, impacted 500,000 people, and led to $989 million in damages. In 2010, the Pacaya Volcano erupted, scattering volcanic ash and debris across Guatemala City, bringing economic life in the capital of 1.5 million residents to a standstill. Two days later, Tropical Storm Agatha hit, killing 174, injuring 154, affecting close to 400,000 Guatemalans, and causing nearly $1 billion in damage. Agatha also led to the evacuation of 112,000 and displacement of 20,000 Guatemalans. A recent landslide in October 2015 caused additional devastation and the deaths of hundreds. The cumulative loss of infrastructure, harvests—including thousands of hectares of agricultural land—and homes caused extraordinary loss of life and livelihood, with women, children, and indigenous communities at particular risk.
With a homicide rate of 57 per 100,000 people, Honduras suffers 10 times more homicides than the world average and four times the number of homicides than the average country in the Americas. Criminal gangs often target children and young adults for recruitment and to commit crimes. Disturbingly, for young adult males between the ages of 20 and 34, the murder rate in Honduras exceeds 300 per 100,000. Gangs also regularly target girls and women for forced recruitment, sexual harassment, and exploitation. After her visit to Honduras in July 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women noted that violent deaths among women had increased by 263 percent between 2005 and 2013 and that Honduras criminal justice system had a 95 percent rate of impunity for femicide and sexual violence crimes.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
There are substantiated reports of Honduran police forming death squads and committing extrajudicial executions in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The militarization of police in Honduras began in 2013 with often-masked Military Police (PMOP) deployed into some of the more violent sectors of the large cities. These police are at the top of the civilian national police structure (FUSINA), a force mistrusted both by those inside and outside the government because of the high rates of corruption and complicity with organized crime. Nonetheless, the PMOP are an extra-constitutional body and have been implicated in a growing list of abuses, made even harder to address because of a lack of civilian accountability and anonymity. Recently, child advocacy organization Casa Alianza documented that in the last two months, the PMOP were involved in at least six extrajudicial executions of children and youth. Abuses attributed to the PMOP and FUSINA include beatings, harassment of civil rights activists, forced disappearances, sexual assaults, and murders of poor or disadvantaged Hondurans. A February 2014 report by El Heraldo, the leading newspaper, found that over 200 national police were implicated in killings for hire, drug theft, and corruption.
TPS is a Critical Component of a Package of Humanitarian Protection
We welcome the announced expansion of refugee processing abroad for nationals from the Northern Triangle countries who are fleeing persecution and the ability for them to apply for refugee status in a safe, third country in the region. This development is a sorely needed expansion of the Central American Minor (CAM) In-Country Refugee Processing Program, through which certain children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are permitted to apply for refugee status from within their home countries. It is incumbent on your Administration, however, that refugee processing represent part of a comprehensive package of protection from harm for those fleeing violence in Central America.
Moreover, these programs are an explicit acknowledgement that country conditions in these countries are steadily worsening, the outflows of mothers and children are driven by severe violence, and safety for many is increasingly elusive. The January 2016 withdrawal of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers from El Salvador—the first time in over 40 years—in addition to the September 2012 withdrawal of volunteers from Honduras, is further evidence that no one is immune to the region’s escalating violence.
The risk of deportation to the Northern Triangle countries is tangible and profound. According to a comprehensive study conducted by social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy at San Diego State University, between January 2014 and September 2015, at least 83 nationals deported to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were reported to have been subsequently murdered, with 45 murders in El Salvador, 35 in Honduras, and three in Guatemala.
Designation of a country for TPS should be premised on whether country conditions meet the statutory requirements set by Congress and must not be impacted by unfounded fears of increased refugees arriving at our nation’s border. TPS eligibility is strictly limited to individuals who are physically present in the United States prior to designation. Moreover, outflows from these countries are primarily driven by push factors of extreme violence and persecution, not domestic immigration policy. There is no historical precedent or evidence of additional foreign nationals attempting to enter the United States as a consequence of a TPS designation. Certainly, your Administration has not shied away from taking bold action to exercise its discretionary authority to establish Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals despite critics’ unfounded and speculative allegations that such exercise would drive others to migrate here. Moreover, even a federal court has taken a dim view of the argument that the Administration’s policies allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country contribute to future migration.
The asylum system plays a key role in protecting many of those who flee persecution in their home countries. However, despite the high rates of homicide, femicide, and other forms of violence, the overall success rate for Central American asylum seekers in U.S. immigration courts is very low. While due process issues and lack of counsel play a role, the standards for securing asylum are very narrow, require very high levels of corroboration, and many of the reasons that Central American asylum seekers need protection, such as fear of persecution due to opposition to gangs, involve a complicated and evolving area of asylum law.
Given the urgent nature of this request and the risk placed on the lives of those who are deported, we request your timely consideration and prompt reply. If you need additional information or have questions related to this request, please contact Royce Murray, National Immigrant Justice Center, at or 312-718-5021.

For a full list of the undersigned, click HERE