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New York, NY, March 9, 2020 —  David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, said:

“In Dallas, Texas and Juarez, Mexico I met IRC staff and clients and witnessed first-hand the humanitarian crisis that continues to ripple through politics both north and south of the US-Mexico border. It is time to say this crisis can be managed – and is a choice not about whether desperate people will arrive or not, but whether to manage their arrival in a sane, humane and regulated fashion, commensurate with America’s powerful legacy of welcome for the world’s most vulnerable, or to suffer unplanned and dangerous efforts to get to the US. 

Almost 1 million people attempted to cross the US-Mexico border last year. Half of these were families – up nearly 20% from 2018- and the overwhelming majority from countries in the Northern Triangle. Since October alone, 14,000 children have made the same treacherous trek unaccompanied. The flight of children and their families is an undeniable hallmark of humanitarian crisis; it is also a testament to levels of gang violence in the Northern Triangle – which the IRC’s significant experience across the arc of this crisis confirms- that compete and often outstrip some of the world’s worst war zones.

In both Dallas and Juarez, I heard desperate stories of families held at gunpoint in their homes by gangs – with nowhere left to turn and no option but to travel north. But the dangers these families face do not end with fleeing their homes. They must overcome the journey: no country on the route from Central America takes people beyond danger, with especially serious risks for women, girls, and the LGBTQ community. A woman in the Northern Triangle is murdered every six hours. Rates of femicide in the region are between three and twelve times the global average. And as many as 8/10 women and girls who attempt the journey north are raped along the way. These figures should force a serious debate on the drivers and consequences of gender-based violence around the world – let alone mere miles from the United States – as we mark International Women’s Day.

It embodies a race to the bottom that rather than offering respite from their suffering, current US policy compounds the dangers. The legal right to claim asylum in the US has been blocked by a “wall” of policies and practices that make it impossible to access protection guaranteed by US and international law. This blocks the passage of the Cuban dissident I met as well as the Honduran woman.  

The IRC-supported shelters I visited in Juarez, specifically catering to the needs of women, girls and the LGBTQ community, are underserved and overstretched – all against the backdrop of cartel and gang violence in Mexico, and especially along the border, so elevated it made last year the country’s deadliest.  For IRC clients I spoke to the journey in the hands of smugglers, the crossing of the Rio Grande, the sicarios prowling the border, were traumatic. So was their treatment as criminals in the US. As an IRC client and mother from Guatemala told me in Dallas, ‘It feels like another river to cross.’ Then the “Migrant Protection Policy” feels like a migrant danger policy when they are sent back to Mexico.

As the world’s most powerful country, the US can and should do better than to put families in harm’s way.  There needs to be a way of discussing the need for humanity, legality and stability in migration policy – even in election year, in fact especially in election year. A humane immigration and refugee policy – based on a credible, competent, effective, rights-respecting system for identifying protection claims – is not just the right and smart thing to do, it is critical to the futures of thousands of Americans and their families. In Dallas, where one in four residents is foreign-born, I was able to see IRC’s work integrating refugees and asylum-seekers in partnership with the local community – in contrast to the state of Texas’ decision to “opt out” of refugee resettlement. The consequence of that is not only to endanger families, but to forfeit the $4.6 billion per year refugees are estimated to contribute to the state of Texas alone. 

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Beyond the urgent revision of cruel and ineffective policy, a boost in aid is critical. In Mexico, a UN funding gap of $40 million leaves hundreds of thousands without services while they wait; NGOs like IRC are in desperate need of support to continue our life-saving work along the border. Moreover, aid must be urgently restored to the Northern Triangle countries. The $8.6 billion the current administration requested to build the US-Mexico border wall is twenty times the amount requested to address the drivers of displacement in the region. Otherwise, the insecurity and poverty that pose ongoing threats to life and limb in the region will only grow- and continue to force people to take this desperate gamble for their lives.” 

IRC works across the arc of crisis with Central American families — from the crisis in El Salvador or Honduras, when families are stuck on the Mexican side of the border in Ciudad Juarez, when they are released on the US side of the border in Arizona and California, and throughout their court proceedings in the US. 

The IRC helps refugees fleeing war and persecution to rebuild their lives in 25 U.S. cities. The asylum-seeking families (ASF) program is IRC’s first emergency response to a migration crisis in the US. The IRC is providing assistance including case management, mental health referrals, emergency housing and cash assistance, and legal representation to asylum-seeking families in seven cities in Texas, California, Colorado and Arizona as well as NY and NJ. The IRC’s asylum-seeking families program served 6,000 people, the vast majority families, last year alone.

In Mexico, the IRC is supporting local organizations and shelters in Ciudad Juarez to primarily meet the immediate needs of primarily female migrants, asylum seekers and deportees. 

In the Northern Triangle, The IRC is working to address the root causes and the symptoms of the crisis. The IRC works with local organizations in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to build capacity to serve impacted families. The IRC has launched CuentaNos.org, its interactive information platform for migrants, refugees and returnees tailored to their needs, location and destination in El Salvador and Honduras and is preparing to launch in Guatemala. IRC also works with internally-displaced persons in El Salvador with a focus on women, girls and the LGBTQ+ population.