Seventeen-year old Rosalia* fled Central America after being raped and impregnated by a boy who continually abused her. Although she told U.S. border agents that she was pregnant, they kept her in a cold, small facility with inadequate food. Instead of referring her to be screened for an asylum claim as required by law, border agents instead accused Rosalia of lying about her rape and assaults and told her she could never get a lawyer.
The demographics of unauthorized migration to the United States have changed. Single men coming over to support their families back home are no longer predominant, with migration for economic reasons having decreased dramatically in recent years. Instead, children and families are making the journey over because they are not safe in their home countries; many are fleeing violence. Recently, there has been a surge in children crossing over alone. The unimaginable hardships they face on the way to the United States—smugglers, extortion, hunger, to name a few—are a testament to the desperation and fear the drive them to leave their home countries.
The U.S. has rapidly expanded its forces on the border, with thousands of border patrol officers patrolling ports of entry and surrounding areas. But, U.S. migration policies are outdated and Customs and Border Protection officers are in many ways unequipped to handle the new migrants. They use an “enforcement with consequences” policy that seeks to deter the single person looking for better economic opportunities; this policy does not work for those children and families who are seeking protection in the United States.
After visiting the border and interviewing many migrants who are now detained, Women’s Refugee Commission staff found that the rights of many to seek asylum were not being met. According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and asylum law, migrants should be screened to determine whether they have a fear of returning to their country or are vulnerable to trafficking. Our interviews with unaccompanied children, in particular, show that many who are eligible for protection are instead being repatriated against their will to dangerous and exploitative situations.
Through visits to U.S. border field offices and local organizations, the Women’s Refugee Commission works to highlight the need for reforms in the immigration system and for greater accountability, oversight and transparency of Customs and Border Protection. We call for the agency to have more open access and to be more engaged with migrant rights organizations. Together with organizations and coalitions both in Washington, D.C .,and along the U.S. border, we advocate locally, nationally and internationally to ensure that Customs and Border Protection implements meaningful screening practices for vulnerable populations and holds accountable those officers who violate U.S. and international laws.
Read about the realities of border enforcement.
*Name changed for anonymity.