Press Releases

Rep. Roybal-Allard, Sens. Menendez, Durbin, and Hirono, and Rep. Gutierrez Discuss Humanitarian and Refugee Children Crisis at the Border

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Washington, June 19, 2014 | Ben Soskin ((202) 225-1766) | comments
At a press conference today, Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40) was joined by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (NJ), Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Senator Mazie Hirono (HI), and Representative Luis Gutierrez (IL-04) to address the hemispheric refugee crisis on the Southern border and in Central America. The Members discussed a series of actions and policy changes, on both the domestic and foreign affairs fronts, to better handle the surge of Central Americans being forced to leave their homelands as a result of the alarming levels of violence in the region.

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis on our southwest border,” said Representative Roybal-Allard.  “While there are no easy answers to this heart-wrenching situation, the plan announced today offers a sensible roadmap for addressing the surge in child migrants in a way that upholds our values and our national interest.  Above all, we must ensure that our government lives up to its obligations under U.S. and international law to treat these children with care and compassion.  Instead of pointing fingers, it’s time for Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to come together to address this challenge.”  

“Let’s be clear.  This is a humanitarian and refugee crisis.  It’s being caused in large measure by thousands in Central America who believe it is better to run for their lives and risk dying, than stay and die for sure,” said Senator Menendez. “The bottom line is that we must attack this problem from a foreign policy perspective, a humanitarian perspective, a criminal perspective, immigration perspective, and a national security perspective. We need to do all we can to stabilize the situation in Central America and stem the flow of children and refugees to our borders, a tragedy that is simply unacceptable in America and unacceptable in our hemisphere.”

“What we are facing on our Southern Border is a humanitarian crisis,” said Senator Durbin.  “Thousands of young children are fleeing their homes, largely from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras where violence from gangs and drug cartels has spiked dramatically.  And they are not just fleeing to the United States. The United Nations found that between 2008 to 2013 asylum requests in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Belize increased 712%.   The plan we are releasing today outlines a comprehensive response that includes meeting our legal and humanitarian obligations to shelter and protect these children, cracking down on smugglers and cartels, and addressing the underlying factors that drive children to flee in the first place.”

“It has been heartbreaking to see the surge of children risking life and limb to cross the U.S. Border. This humanitarian crisis demonstrates the need for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and for everyone to work together to curtail trafficking and smuggling, contain the violence and discord  in Central America, and ensure that these children have access to legal assistance and are kept in safe and humane conditions when they arrive here,” said Senator Hirono. "Many of these children have been abused on their way to the U.S. and it’s important that we treat them humanely and give them fair due process. That’s why I am organizing a trip with my colleagues to visit the facilities that these children are being held in.” 

“The crisis on our border is a humanitarian one, and did not happen overnight,” said Representative Gutierrez.   “Adults caused the crisis but children are suffering.  Years of neglect of our neighbors and turning a blind eye for decades to our broken immigration system and the insatiable U.S. demand for illegal drugs has contributed to putting boys and girls into harm’s way as they make the perilous trip north in the hands of human smugglers.  We must put politics aside and not demonize these children.  We must do what is in their best interests in the short term and in the long term come up with comprehensive solutions in coordination with the sending nations.  Comprehensive immigration reform is part of the solution, but only a part.  But immigration reform will help secure our borders, crack down on drug and smuggling rings and ensure that the only immigrants coming to the U.S. are coming with visas, not smugglers.”

The Members noted that while the Administration has been quick to react to this emergency situation, their changes need complementary reforms to create short-term fixes and long-term solutions that get to the root causes of this humanitarian crisis. 

According to a recently released report by the UNHCR, 58% percent of unaccompanied minors “raise potential international protection” claims – meaning they have a viable claim to refugee protections under international law.

The following is a statement that Representative Roybal-Allard delivered at today’s press conference.  Details of the plan discussed today can be found here.

Press Conference Statement by Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)

Let me begin by thanking my colleagues for their thoughtful leadership on this issue.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the US Council of Catholic Bishops, and the Women’s Refugee Commission, the number one reason these kids are leaving their homes is to escape endemic violence, including extortion, killings, and forced recruitment into street gangs.  

One example is Honduras, where, according to the Washington Office on Latin America, 70 boys and girls are killed every month, and the tortured bodies of two-year-olds are being found in gang-run neighborhoods.  

Murders of boys and men have almost tripled since 2005, and murders of girls and women have gone up even more.

The majority of these children are coming here simply to survive.  

Allow me to briefly highlight a few of the key elements of our strategy.  

To help ensure that children are appropriately screened and receive the care and compassion they deserve, the plan recommends placing trained child welfare professionals at the border, which is not happening today.  

These children often do not have legal counsel.

This plan calls for professional legal assistance so that children facing deportation will at least have a fair hearing before an immigration judge.

In addition, we propose using proven, cost-effective Alternatives to Detention, instead of returning to the costly and indiscriminate practice of locking up entire immigrant families.  

And finally, the plan describes smart investments in Central America to enhance economic growth and bolster public safety to help stem the flow of migrants.   

While there are no easy solutions, this plan addresses the causes and consequences of this heart-wrenching situation, balancing the best interest of our country and the best interests of these vulnerable children in a way that upholds our American values. 

Thank you.

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