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New IRC Report: Disorder by Design – The Trump Administration’s manufactured emergency at the U.S.-Mexican border and the Real Crisis in Central America

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The International Rescue Committee (IRC) published a report today using first-hand accounts from beneficiaries, partners, and staff on the ground to reveal the manufactured tensions created by the Trump Administration at the U.S.-Mexican border. It also analyzes the real point of crisis in the Northern Triangle region of Central America, and recommends sustainable and solutions-oriented policies that the U.S. must adopt to address it.

The IRC reaffirms its position that the humanitarian crisis facing Central and North America must be primarily addressed at the source of crisis in the Northern Triangle - and not just at its symptoms seen at the United States’ southern border. In the report, The IRC outlines:

  • The innovative and contextualized emergency response work on the ground in El Salvador;
  • The rapid scale up of The IRC's U.S.-based programming to care for Central American families seeking asylum; and
  • Policy recommendations for the U.S. based on combined lessons learned.

El Salvador: As dangerous as an active war zone

Over a decade, El Salvador has been consistently categorized as one of the world’s most violent countries in the world, outside of an active war zone. Nearly 20,000 Salvadorans were killed from 2014 to 2017—more violent deaths than in countries such as Libya, Somalia, and Ukraine –which were at war.

  • Among a population of 6.5 million people (about the size of Massachusetts), there are approximately 65,000 active gang members and another 400,000 to 500,000 individuals associated with gangs.
  • In 2017, one woman was murdered every 18 hours, or almost 10 per week. In 2018, there were more than 9.2 homicides per day, a conservative figure that does not account for disappearances, which also were approximately 10 per day.
  • While the government of El Salvador does not keep official statistics on internal displacement and has yet to officially recognize the phenomena, estimates put new annual internal displacements due to conflict and violence between 200,000 and 300,000 persons each year.

As part of a needs assessment conducted in El Salvador on August 2017, The IRC found that families and individuals on the move were often unable to access protection services and meet their basic needs. The assessment indicated that the priority needs for Salvadorans included resources for shelter, food and clothing, legal support, and specialized protective and social services. These needs were especially acute among those most vulnerable, including women, girls and the LGBTQ community. In response, The IRC developed the following interventions:

  • Protection services for vulnerable groups;
  • Cash-based humanitarian assistance;
  • Promoting protection by building local crisis response capacity;  
  • Access to lifesaving information through the CuentaNos platform;  
  • Crisis case management; and
  • Support Programming for returnees.

Disorder by Design: How the Trump Administration undermines treats vulnerable asylum seekers

While the President has declared a national emergency at the border, the facts on the ground point to disorder by design – including but not limited to the proactive dismantling of key protections and programs such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the Central American Minors (CAM) program and the Family Case Management Program, and the creation of exacerbating factors including “Metering”, The Case of A-B, “Zero Tolerance” and forced returns through “Remain in Mexico.”

As the humanitarian crisis gripping the Northern Triangle escalates, unprecedented numbers of families are on the move, fleeing persecution, violence and seeking protection in the United States. While the number of people seeking protection has been increasing, the United States has the resources to respond appropriately.

The IRC launched a rare emergency humanitarian response at the U.S. southern border focused on two key components - assistance at the border and case-management services:

  • In Phoenix and Tucson, The IRC’s staff rapidly responded to assist children and parents separated under “Zero Tolerance,” then released from detention and reunited in Phoenix in July 2018. Since then, The IRC’s Arizona offices continued to support networks of churches and community groups that host and support asylum-seeking families before they move on to their final destinations. Over an eight-month period, The IRC in Arizona distributed over 8,000 donated in-kind items to families.
  • In San Diego, The IRC similarly worked in concert with partners to set up an emergency shelter to provide families with services during the short period of time before they continue their journey to join their host relatives. From November 2018 to March 2019, The IRC’s case workers were deployed seven days per week to conduct intake and basic needs assessment with families when they first arrived to the shelter from federal custody, and to reach out to relatives to coordinate travel arrangements. During that time, the shelter, which is operated by the San Diego Rapid Response Network, served more than 11,000 clients.
  • The IRC has leveraged private resources and partnerships to launch comprehensive case management for asylum-seeking families in their new communities, with services such as individualized needs planning, in-home psychological support, temporary housing support, legal and social services.

The IRC’s U.S. Policy Recommendations

The IRC calls on the Administration to restore its aid to the region, and in the United States, reverse the harmful policy course it has taken. Immediate steps can be taken to address this today:

  • The Trump Administration should reverse its decision to cut foreign aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Congress should ensure that funds it has appropriated are spent by the administration.
  • In resuming aid, education, especially early childhood and young school-age education, are key for turning off the spigot as gang recruitment ages drop younger and younger. The average age for gang entry is now 12.
  • Halt the “Remain in Mexico” program which forcibly returns asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration hearings - undermining of their due process rights and exposing vulnerable people to potential harm.
  • Stop the unethical use of “metering” at the southern border, which sets arbitrary rules to how many asylum seekers U.S. border patrol will process each day. The U.S. has the resources to process asylum seekers fairly and effectively.
  • Reinstate the Central American Minors (CAM) program which provided vulnerable children a safe and legal pathway to escape danger and reunite with their parents legally residing in the United States. For those in the United States, sustain the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Northern Triangle countries and provide them a permanent solution.
  • The U.S. should refrain from rolling back safeguards for children. The Administration is seeking means to detain children indefinitely. It must cease these efforts to erode protections for children or Congress must act.
  • For families in immigration court proceedings reinstate the Family Case Management Program, a formal alternative to detention. Prior to its cancellation by the administration, it had a 99 percent compliance rate for immigration court hearings. The administration should also dedicate resources to processing asylum claims at the border.
  • Congress must appropriate funds to pilot an expansion of the existing Legal Orientation Program. This program has been proven effective and efficient, and respects due process for unaccompanied children as well as for individuals detained in ICE custody and families released along the border.
  • Finally, the administration should ensure that it meets this year’s Presidential Determination of 30,000 and sets a refugee admissions ceiling of no less than 75,000 in the next fiscal year. Further, members of Congress should support Senator Markey’s GRACE Act, which would set a refugee admissions floor of 95,000.
About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.