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IRTF Policy Packet: April 2019

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America

Contacts and Information:
InterReligious Task Force on Central America
3606 Bridge Ave., Cleveland OH 44113 • 216.961.0003 • www.IRTFcleveland.org
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Co-Coordinators: Chrissy Stonebraker-Martínez & Brian Stefan-Szittai
Volunteer Associates: Marc Alvarado, Line-Marie Eichhorst
Board of Trustees: Rachel Rosen DeGolia and JP Graulty (co-chairs), Heather Craige (secretary), Andy Trares (treasurer), Elizabeth Bly, Annette Iwamoto, Joan Rymarczyk-Piotrkowski, Keely Veatch
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Table of Contents

1- Introduction

○     The InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF)

○     Immigration From Central America

○     Rapid Response Network

2- Keep Families Together

○     Protect Dreamers

○     Protect TPS Holders

○     End Family Separation And Detention

■     HR 6: The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019

■     HR 1069: Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act

■     S 388: Families, Not Facilities

3- Better Use Of Immigration Enforcement Dollars

■     HR 1630/S 716: Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act

○     Reinstatement Of Discretion In Immigration Enforcement And Prosecution

○     Decrease In Detention Beds

○     No More Border Barriers

○     Rethinking Of Border Security

○     Cuts To The Budgets For ICE And USCBP

4- Protect Civilians, Social Leaders, and Military and Law Enforcement Personnel

○     WHINSEC

○     Northern Triangle

■     HR 1945: Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act

○     Colombia

○     Mexico

5- Trump Declares a Cut of Aid Appropriations to Central America

 

1- Introduction

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF)

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) was founded by people of faith and conscience after the assassinations of Archbishop Oscar Romero and US church women (two from Cleveland) in El Salvador in 1980. IRTF calls together the people of Ohio and across the US  to walk in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of Central America and Colombia to achieve peace, justice, human rights, and systemic transformation through nonviolence.

Immigration from Central America

Over the past several years, migration from Central America has been the focal point of significant media and public policy attention, as the number of unaccompanied children and families fleeing from gang violence and poverty has risen.

Civil wars, political instability, and economic hardship first drove significant numbers of Central Americans northward in the 1980’s, which caused the population of that region in United States to more than triple. Despite the end of political conflicts in the early 1990s, additional migration was driven by family unification, natural disasters, and persistent political and economic volatility, with many individuals entering the U.S. without documentation. In 2018, approximately 3.4 million Central Americans resided in the United States, representing about 8% of the 44.5 million U.S. immigrants. Eighty-seven percent of Central Americans in the United States come from the region known as the Northern Triangle, formed by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. El Salvador is a leader in immigrant origin with 1.4 million immigrants in the United States. Guatemala follows with 815,000, followed by Honduras with 623,000.

The Northern Triangle suffers from poor political and socioeconomic conditions, including widespread gang violence and some of the world's highest homicide rates. Since 2011, a growing number of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) and families from Central America, largely from the Northern Triangle, have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, due to these tensions.

Migrants from the Northern Triangle are escaping long entrenched systems of violence. Much of that violence is the legacy of the armed conflicts of the 1980s, fueled by US foreign and military policies. Central Americans struggle to survive day in and day out against many forces of violence: the violence waged by US-sponsored militaries and militarized police forces, the violence of organized crime, gender-based violence, and the violence of incredibly unjust economic systems. These forms of structural violence place massive pressures on them, pushing them to make the very difficult decision to migrate north in order to feed themselves and their families. They should be seen as refugees and treated with mercy and compassion. Their right to apply for political asylum, without the threat of detention, should be upheld.

Many are seeking political asylum. In recent years, individuals from the Northern Triangle accounted for nearly one third of all individual asylum recipients; El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras claimed three of the top four countries of origin among affirmative asylum allocations.

The numbers of Central American migrants reaching the U.S. southern border are continuing to decrease; this is largely due to increased immigration enforcement in Mexico, which is primarily funded and equipped by the United States. Parts of the southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco now resemble border communities of Arizona and South Texas, with an influx of federal agents, militarized highway checkpoints, and raids on hotels frequented by migrants. The militarized immigration enforcement strategy is providing the desired effect for the United States: Mexico is now detaining and deporting more Central American migrants than the U.S. Border Patrol.

 
Zong, Jie, et al. “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States.” Migrationpolicy.org, Migration Policy Institute, 14 Mar. 2019, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states
Linthicum, Kate. More Central Americans are giving up on the U.S. and looking instead to a Mexican dream. Los Angeles Times, 2016.   http://www.latimes.com/sdhoy-more-central-americans-are-giving-up-on-the…
Congressional Research Service, U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, 8 January, 2019. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44812.pdf
US Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Border Patrol Southwest Border Apprehensions by Sector, 11 July 2018. https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/usbp-sw-border-apprehensions
“Central American Immigrant Population Increased Nearly 28-Fold since 1970.” CIS.org, Center for Immigration Studies, 1 Nov. 2018, cis.org/Report/Central-American-Immigrant-Population-Increased-Nearly-28Fold-1970.
Mosaad, Nadwa, and Ryan Baugh. Annual Flow Report: Refugees and Asylees: 2016. DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, 2018, Annual Flow Report: Refugees and Asylees: 2016, www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/DHS_2016_Refugee_and_Asylee_Report.pdf.
 

Rapid Response Network: Protecting Democratic Principles and Civilian Safety

Democratic liberty and the right to agency in one’s life are human rights on which the United States places a great deal of importance. Such democratic pursuits as public assembly, press, speech, and movement should be officially protected by our neighbors and allies. In Central America and Colombia, however, there is a startling number of deaths and disappearances of social leaders, environmental defenders, political organizers, human rights defenders, and many more. Too often, state law enforcement and military forces are responsible for, or complicit in, human rights crimes. Private corporations are also to blame. 

IRTF volunteers on our Rapid Response Network (RRN) team write six letters each month to government officials in Latin America in response to human rights crimes (with copies to officials in the U.S. and the O.A.S.) The purpose of these letters is to: protect people living under threat, demand investigations into human rights crimes, and bring human rights criminals to justice. For those who have been assassinated, these letters serve to acknowledge and honor those who have died at the hands of human rights abusers and to ensure that their deaths are not forgotten nor left unpenalized. Our 200 RRN members sign their names to these crucial letters to bring human rights crimes to light and human rights criminals to justice.

 

2- Keep Families Together

We need more humane immigration policies. We must be less punitive in our treatment of people crossing the border into the U.S. and away from a life of instability, insecurity, and fear of bodily harm. When we criminalize migrants and detain them, we separate family members from each other. When we deport people who have made the United States their home, we tear families apart: separating mothers and fathers from their children, denying families their primary means of income, and disrupting the lives of children, causing psychological distress.  We banish human beings to places which they once feared so strongly that they risked their personal safety in an attempt for something better.

Permanent Legal Status for DREAMers

DACA-eligible (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) young people must be given a pathway to citizenship to end the uncertainty of their futures. In 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order implementing DACA, protecting 1 million young people across the country and thousands in Ohio. In September 2017, President Trump canceled the DACA program, telling Congress it was their responsibility to make DACA a permanent law.

DACA recipients are valuable members of our communities; students, teachers, service members, business owners, and workers.  In fact, the 9,000 DACA recipients in Ohio contribute over $12 million in local and state taxes.  Deporting Dreamers would have a devastating effect on the economy while ripping families apart across the state.   

“Summary of Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6).” National Immigration Law Center, 28 Mar. 2019, www.nilc.org/issues/immigration-reform-and-executive-actions/summary-of-dream-and-promise-act-of-2019/.

 

Permanent Legal Status for TPS-holders

Adults with TPS (Temporary Protected Status) have lived, worked, and raised their US-born children here for the past 15-20 years. They must be recognized as de facto legal residents and be provided a pathway to citizenship. The inclusion of TPS holders in U.S. society is beneficial not only to the United States economy but also to the economies of the TPS holder’s country of origin. TPS holders support their families and communities back home by sending regular remittances; this helps to stifle the need for additional immigration northward.

TPS must be included as part of an effective and comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle. Individuals originating from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras make up over 80% of all TPS holders. A new designation would expand TPS to Guatemala, and provide a much-needed re-designation to the TPS status of El Salvador and Honduras, which are set to expire soon. Designating the Northern Triangle for TPS is both necessary and fully within the existing authority of the Secretary of Homeland Security.

 
Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues. Congressional Research Service, 2019, Temporary Protected Status: Overview and Current Issues, fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RS20844.pdf.
*Although TPS has not been renewed by DHS, removal proceedings (i.e., deportation) have been put on hold because of court rulings. On October 3, 2018, Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction to halt any deportation proceedings—temporarily. The ruling holds the status quo in place until the courts have issued a final ruling in the case Ramos v. Nielsen, on whether the Trump administration violated the law when it ended TPS for these countries. On Feb 28 2019, DHS extended TPS for people from 4 countries: Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua. This is only temporary relief from deportation. Legislation to make the legal status of TPS holders permanent is still needed

Ending Family Separation and Detention

There has been an increase in the number of family units coming into the U.S., often mothers with their small children. These families should not be detained or separated.

In fiscal year 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection intercepted 58,660 unaccompanied children and 161,113 “Family Units” (denoting individuals apprehended with a family member) arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Of those apprehended, 82% of UACs (unaccompanied minors)  and 95% of all family units originated from a Northern Triangle country. Although family units arrive together, they certainly do not remain together, as it is common practice to arrest and detain families in separate areas in one center or even in separate facilities altogether, a practice which has the support of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

 
“Southwest Border Migration FY2018.” Southwest Border Migration FY2018 | U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 9 Nov. 2018, www.cbp.gov/newsroom/stats/sw-border-migration/fy-2018.
“Reviewing the Administration's Unaccompanied Children Program.” CIS.org, Center for Immigration Studies, 27 Feb. 2019, cis.org/Testimony/Reviewing-Administrations-Unaccompanied-Children-Program.
Schultz, Marisa. “Homeland Security Chief Defends Separating Families at Border.” New York Post, New York Post, 18 June 2018, nypost.com/2018/06/18/homeland-security-chief-defends-separating-families-at-border/.

We Ask U.S. Policymakers to:

  1. Become a co-sponsor of HR 6 American Dream and Promise Act of 2019

This bill provides conditional permanent resident (CPR) status and a roadmap to lawful permanent resident (LPR) status and, eventually, U.S. citizenship for a) immigrant youth (Title I) and b) current or prospective TPS or DED holders (Title II). HR6 would allow individuals who meet various criteria to apply for LPR status and eventually for U.S. citizenship.

The bill was introduced on March 13, 2019 by Rep Lucille Roybal-Allard [D-CA-40] and has been co-sponsored by 225 House members. As of April 3 there are only 3 co-sponsors from Ohio, Beatty [OH-3], Fudge [OH-11], Ryan [OH-13]. The IRTF is asking all US representatives from Ohio to co-sponsor.

2. Become a co-sponsor of HR 1069 - Shut Down Child Prison Camps Act

The bill prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from operating unlicensed temporary emergency shelters for unaccompanied alien children, including the previously operational shelter in Tornillo, Texas and the shelter in Homestead, Florida.

The bill was introduced on February 7 by Rep. Chu, Judy [D-CA-27] and has been co-sponsored by 10 House members, none of which are from Ohio. The IRTF is asking all US representatives from Ohio to co-sponsor.

3. Become a co-sponsor of S. 388 – Families, Not Facilities

This bill reduces the ability of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to engage in inappropriate civil immigration enforcement actions that harm unaccompanied alien children and to ensure the safety and welfare of unaccompanied alien children.

The bill was introduced to the senate and was referred to the Judiciary Committee on February 7 by Sen Harris, Kemala D. [D-CA] and has been co-sponsored by 10 Senators, none of which are from Ohio. The IRTF is asking all US senators from Ohio to co-sponsor.

4. Renew* TPS for designated countries

  • Nicaragua: TPS was scheduled to terminate Jan 5 2019
  • El Salvador: TPS was scheduled to terminate September 9, 2019
  • Honduras: TPS is scheduled to terminate January 5, 2020

5. Extend and expand TPS beyond regions affected by natural disaster to designated countries experiencing conditions of extreme entrenched violence and human rights violations: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua.

 

*Although TPS has not been renewed by DHS, removal proceedings (i.e., deportation) have been put on hold because of court rulings. On October 3, 2018, Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction to halt any deportation proceedings—temporarily. The ruling holds the status quo in place until the courts have issued a final ruling in the case Ramos v. Nielsen, on whether the Trump administration violated the law when it ended TPS for these countries. On Feb 28 2019, DHS extended TPS for people from 4 countries: Sudan, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua. This is only temporary relief from deportation. Legislation to make the legal status of TPS holders permanent is still needed

 

3- Better Use of Immigration Enforcement Dollars

There are a finite number of budget-allocated dollars that go into the enforcement of immigration policy. Iit is proven that some policy enforcement strategies are more effective and efficient than others.

Reinstate of Discretion in Immigration Enforcement and Prosecution

In its interior (non-border) immigration enforcement, ICE should only pursue noncitizens who have been convicted of serious violent crimes; others should be low priority. ICE should not be targeting noncitizens who have no serious criminal record. Those immigrants should be allowed to continue living, working, and raising their children until broader immigration changes are put in place.

By ICE’s own reports, the vast majority of incarcerated individuals in ICE detention facilities pose absolutely no threat to the community. In the first month of 2018, 71% of detainees were subject to mandatory detention, “51 percent of which were marked as ‘non-criminal,’ and 51 percent also were classified as posing ‘no threat.’ Twenty-three percent were classified as the lowest ‘Level 1,’ having been charged with low-level and nonviolent criminal convictions. Only 15 percent were classified at the highest threat level.”


Tidwell Cullen, Tara. “ICE Released Its Most Comprehensive Immigration Detention Data Yet. It's Alarming.” National Immigrant Justice Center, 13 Mar. 2018, immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/ice-released-its-most-comprehensive-immigration-detention-data-yet.
 

Decrease Detention Beds

In November 2017, ICE reported that its total average daily population for FY 2018 was 39,322 people. Furthermore, according to ICE's FY 2018 budget, on average it costs $133.99 a day to maintain one adult detention bed; however, immigration groups have pegged the number closer to $200 a day per person, meaning that each day the detention of innocent people, including children, totals up to $7,864,440. 

With more than 40,000 detention beds funded per day, ICE has incentive to apprehend more immigrants and jail them. This increases the incentive to pick up anyone who is undocumented, rather than prioritize noncitizens who may pose a risk to public safety (i.e., violent criminal offenders). Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars go to profit private prison security and infrastructure companies.

 
Tidwell Cullen, Tara. “ICE Released Its Most Comprehensive Immigration Detention Data Yet. It's Alarming.” National Immigrant Justice Center, 13 Mar. 2018, immigrantjustice.org/staff/blog/ice-released-its-most-comprehensive-immigration-detention-data-yet.
Urbi, Jaden. “This Is How Much It Costs to Detain an Immigrant in the US.” CNBC, CNBC, 21 June 2018, 6:58 PM, www.cnbc.com/2018/06/20/cost-us-immigrant-detention-trump-zero-tolerance-tents-cages.html.
 

Stop Building Border Barriers

With hundreds of miles of border fencing constructed since the 1990s, thousands of migrants have lost their lives trying to circumvent those barriers. The barriers force them to go into more remote desert areas where they face increased risk of death due to the harsh elements, lack of water, and lack of humanitarian assistance. More fences equals more deaths.

In FY 2017, the number of individuals that had been apprehended at the southern border was less than a third of all immigration violation cases. The vast majority consisted of those who had overstayed their visas. This demographic amounts to nearly 70% of all undocumented immigration but it is rarely talked about, particularly by those who support the funding of a hard southern border.

McMinn, Sean, and Renee Klahr. “Where Does Illegal Immigration Mostly Occur? Here's What The Data Tell Us.” NPR, NPR, 10 Jan. 2019, 4:58 PM, www.npr.org/2019/01/10/683662691/where-does-illegal-immigration-mostly-occur-heres-what-the-data-tell-us.
 

Rethink Border Security

Border security at all costs is a deadly mindset. At the Nogales, AZ, steel fence in 2012, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz shot 16-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez ten times through the steel slats. Swartz claimed he was under threat by the Mexican teenager who, standing 50 feet away from the steel fence on the Mexico side, was throwing rocks. In 2018, a migrant from Guatemala, 20-year-old Claudia Patricia Gómez Gonzáles, was shot in the head and killed by a Border Patrol agent in Rio Bravo, TX, after she crossed into the US.

 
Chavez, Nicole. “Border Patrol Agent Acquitted in Fatal Shooting of Mexican Teen.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Nov. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/11/22/us/border-patrol-agent-acquitted-mexican-teen-killing/index.html.
 

Cut the budgets for ICE and USCBP

Having more enforcement agents on the ground means more homes and workplaces are raided, more families are torn apart, and more people are jailed like criminals for the nonviolent offense of residing here in an undocumented status. (As mentioned above: Most of the undocumented immigrant population in the US did not cross a border illegally; most entered legally with tourist or student visas and have overstayed their visas.)

ICE spent an average of $10,854 per deportee during FY 2017, according to ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe. "This includes all costs necessary to identify, apprehend, detain, process through immigration court, and remove an alien." From FY 2017 to 2018, there was a rise in deportation arrests, mostly of non-criminals. While arrests of criminals jumped 14 percent to 25,626 (from 22,484), arrests of non-criminals nearly tripled to 13,548 (from 4,918).

 
Carranza, Rafael. “How Much Does It Cost to Deport Someone?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 28 Apr. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/04/28/deportation-costs-immigration/307548001/.
“Deportation Officers Are Increasingly Arresting People with No Crime Records.” NBCNews.com, Associated Press, 26 Feb. 2018, 10:22 AM, www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/us-deportations-targeting-more-people-no-crime-records-n851196.

We Ask U.S. Policymakers to:

  1. Become a co-sponsor of HR 1630 – Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act

This bill imposes sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to combat corruption, money laundering, and impunity in Guatemala, and for other purposes. IRTF believes that by combating corruption at the state level, this will support popular well being in Guatemala and begin to combat some of the causes of mass migration to the southern border, thus conserving immigration enforcement dollars.

On March 7, 2019, this bill was introduced by Rep. Torres, Norma J. [D-CA-35] to the House and was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the House Judicial Committee, as well as the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. This bill has been co-sponsored by 25 Senators, none of which are from Ohio. The IRTF is asking all US representatives from Ohio to co-sponsor.

2. Become a co-sponsor of S 716 – Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act

This bill imposes sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to combat corruption, money laundering, and impunity in Guatemala, and for other purposes. IRTF believes that by combating corruption at the state level, this will support popular well being in Guatemala and begin to combat some of the causes of mass migration to the southern border, thus conserving immigration enforcement dollars.

On March 7, 2019, this bill was introduced by Sen. Cardin, Benjamin L. [D-MD] to the Senate as well as the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. This bill has 8 co-sponsors, none of which are from Ohio. The IRTF is asking all US senators from Ohio to co-sponsor.

3. End detention and block the further expansion of detention centers, such as the construction of new detention centers or increased contracts with the private prison industry.

4. Reject budgets that allocate funding for a hard U.S.-Mexico border.

5.Reject budgets that allocate funding for population surveillance by ICE and USCBP with the intention of identifying, apprehending, and detaining non-criminal immigrants.

6. Oppose budget increases for apprehension, detention, and deportation.

7. At the local level, send staff to accompany undocumented people to their required check-ins at ICE offices.

 

4- Protect Civilians, Social Leaders, and Military and Law Enforcement Personnel

Between FY 2018 and FY 2019, the amount of aid being allocated for Latin American security assistance increased by 24% to nearly 1.5 billion dollars. However, despite the overwhelming challenges of poverty in these countries, humanitarian and development aid is facing a decrease of 4% while military and police aid is increasing by an astounding 70%.

 
“Latin America and the Caribbean.” Security Assistance Monitor, Center for International Policy, securityassistance.org/latin-america-and-caribbean.
 

Security Assistance through WHINSEC

Ohioans became aware of WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA), in the 1990s. Through a FOIA (Freedom of Information Request), it was learned that soldiers trained by the US at the SOA were the responsible for the rape and murder of the four US church women on December 2, 1980 in El Salvador. Two of those women--Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel-- were on the mission team of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. For the past 20 years, Ohioans have been angered that this combat training school for Latin American soldiers is still in operation at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Since 1946, the SOA has trained more than 64,000 Latin American soldiers and police in counterinsurgency techniques, psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics. Many who were trained at the SOA/WHINSEC have committed human rights abuses against civilian populations. They have tortured, raped, assassinated, and massacred hundreds and thousands of Latin Americans. 

WHINSEC is an expensive government sanctioned and funded institute, costing U.S. taxpayers approximately $18 million annually. This is incredibly problematic as there are very few oversight and accountability measures in place for WHINSEC, prohibiting the implementation of tracking mechanisms of graduates and prevents tracking from independent research by human rights groups as well.

Graduates of WHINSEC include, current head of Honduran Armed Forces, Carlos Antonio Cuéllar, four of the six army generals tied to the 2009 Honduran Coup, and two of the eight arrested in the murder of environmental and indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres. In 2017, WHINSEC trained 108 Honduran soldiers and 566 Colombian soldiers.

 

Security Assistance to the Northern Triangle*

The U.S. motivation for security and humanitarian assistance to Central America comes from a desire to stem the flow of migrants that are fleeing their home countries, especially Northern Triangle countries. Many of the individuals and families who migrate north are escaping from incredibly high rates of poverty, homicide (including femicide), and gang violence. Because of economic instability and domination by foreign (including US) tourism and agribusiness corporations, there is also a large trend toward organized crime and drug trade. 

The U.S. sends between $500 million and $750 million to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to support programs that, according to the State Department, are designated to combat drug and human trafficking, combat gang violence, and promote good governance, the rule of law and anticorruption. While these are important pursuits, the reality on the ground finds that many law-abiding citizens are being negatively impacted. With more police, military, and joint police-military forces on the ground, governments mobilize them to interrupt freedom of assembly and expression. Marches and rallies are stopped with militarized weaponry. Pro-democracy leaders, labor organizers, and environmental defenders are injured, sometimes killed. Leaders of social movements are unjustly arrested and prosecuted.

This emphasis on security ignores the fact that corruption and impunity remain high in Northern Triangle countries; supporting them with security assistance does not ensure safety for the people.

Security assistance plans such as the Alliance for Prosperity Plan are misguided in their attempts to effectively stem migration; they address security initiatives rather than the root causes of migration. The U.S. must recognize our role in creating poor conditions in Central American countries and take actions to rectify peace and stability rather than perpetuate violence and insecurity. This is explained by Laura Carlsen, Director of the Center for International Policy America’s Program: “this [plan] creates a vicious but lucrative circle of investment-displacement-repression, as populations are forced from their lands and then criminalized as migrants, justifying enormous security contracts.”

 
Lubold, Gordon. “Trump Officials Try to Defend Plan to Cut Aid to Three Central American Nations.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 31 Mar. 2019, www.wsj.com/articles/trump-officials-try-to-defend-plan-to-cut-aid-to-three-central-american-nations-11554073841.
Carlsen, Laura. “‘Biden Plan’ for Central America Continues the Crackdown on Kids.” Truthout, Truthout, 3 Apr. 2015, truthout.org/articles/biden-plan-for-central-america-continues-the-crackdown-on-kids/.
 
*This section excludes comment on the impact of the recent proclamation by President Donald Trump that his administration will cut off all aid to the Northern Triangle.

 

HR 1945 – Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act

On March 2, 2016, the world-renowned Honduran indigenous leader and recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Berta Cáceres, was assassinated in her home. Cáceres was a longtime organizer and human rights defender, who had most recently been leading the resistance against construction of the Agua Zarca Dam, an internationally funded hydroelectric dam to be built on the Gualcarque River, an ancestral waterway sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. Her prominent status and precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights were not enough to shield her from the militarized Honduran state. Within four months of her assassination, two other prominent members of her organization COPINH were also murdered. Berta’s murder is only one of many in a systematic pattern of impunity, corruption, and human rights violations.

Since President Zelaya was forced from office in the June 2009 coup d’état, violence in Honduras has skyrocketed. Considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world, the general climate of violence has been used by the government to repress human rights defenders. In January 2017, the London-based watchdog group Global Witness reported: “since 2010, there have been more than 120 documented cases of activists murdered for standing up to the government and companies that grab land and destroy the environment.”

Honduran security forces are highly involved in these cases. For example, the Honduran Military Police were accused of involvement in at least 9 killings, more than 20 cases of torture, and about 30 cases of illegal arrests between 2012 and 2014. Due to widespread impunity, more than 90% of abuse and killings go unsolved. More than 100 peasant land rights defenders have been recognized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as needing special protective measures because their lives are in danger. Many have already been killed because of the Honduran government’s failure to protect them.

Berta Cáceres’ case is just one of numerous cases in which police, military and former public security forces are in the service of private companies seeking to undermine and suppress legitimate social protest related to their companies’ operations.

The Berta Cáceres Act states that "the Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity.”

The bill was reintroduced on March 28, 2019 by Rep. Johnson, Henry C. "Hank," Jr. [D-GA-4] and was subsequently introduced to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Financial Services Committee. The bill currently has 43 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. The IRTF is asking all US representatives from Ohio to co-sponsor; as of April 2, the only Ohio co-sponsor is Rep Marcy Kaptur (OH-9).

 

Security Assistance to Colombia

For more than half a century, Colombia has experienced fighting between government forces, rebel (guerilla) groups, paramilitary groups, and criminal organizations. These conflicts have resulted in human rights abuses such as harassment, threats, physical and sexual assaults, kidnappings, torture, and killings of countless Colombian civilians, indigenous communities, and human rights defenders.

In fiscal year 2019 the U.S. has requested $265,400,000 in total aid to Colombia, of which $165,400,000 is allocated for military and police aid. As billions of U.S. tax dollars have been used to fund militarization in Colombia, these policies have continuously failed to defeat the armed insurgencies and other conflicts and have lead to systematic human rights abuses.

Furthermore, since the signing of the peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC in 2016, there has been increased violence in many areas of Colombia. The number of reported threats to individual community leaders, many of them Afro-Colombian and indigenous, increased almost 175 percent, from 270 in 2017 to 740 in 2018. Moreover, 500 threats were made against social organizations last year alone. According to the Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, 126 social leaders were murdered in 2017 and 178 in 2018, marking a 27 percent increase. In January 2019 alone, 15 were killed.

We must stop militarized aid and fully commit to a sustainable peace process for all Colombians. It is time for the United States to fully support a continued diplomatic peace process, end militarization, and ensure human rights protections.

 
Isacson, Adam. “Snapshot of U.S. Aid to Colombia Right Now.” Adam Isacson, 26 Aug. 2018, adamisacson.com/snapshot-of-u-s-aid-to-colombia-right-now/.
Fernández Aponte, Andrea. “Peace Accord Implementation in Colombia: Urgent Need to Adhere to the Spirit of the Accords.” Latin America Working Group, 12 Mar. 2019, www.lawg.org/peace-accord-implementation-in-colombia-urgent-need-to-adhere-to-the-spirit-of-the-accords/.
 

Security Assistance to Mexico

For FY 2019 the U.S. has allocated $136,800,000 for Mexican military assistance and only $20,250,000 for humanitarian and development aid. The military assistance will go toward the current trend of militarization of the Mexican public security forces. President López Obrador’s National Plan for Peace and Security, presented just weeks before he took office on December 1, proposes creating a National Guard made up of Military Police (drawn from the Army and Navy) and Federal Police agents, primarily under the control and supervision of the Ministry of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA).

This poses a deep threat to human rights and liberties as the training of military forces differs greatly from that of civilian police forces. As opposed to the ways in which police forces are expected to utilize the trust and cooperation of the people in conflict situations, soldiers are trained to use force to overwhelm an enemy in combat situations, making them unfit to be in close contact with civilians. Furthermore, the creation of a militarized National Guard does not address weak accountability mechanisms for human rights violations and crimes committed by members of the military.  Military troops and police continue to be implicated in torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances throughout Mexico.

“Mexico.” Security Assistance Monitor, Center for International Policy, securityassistance.org/data/program/military/Mexico/.
Meyer, Maureen. “Proposed Mexico National Guard Puts Human Rights at Risk.” WOLA, Washington Office on Latin America, 10 Jan. 2019, www.wola.org/analysis/mexico-national-guard-military-abuses/.

We Ask U.S. Policymakers to:

  1. Become a co-sponsor of H.R. 1945 The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act which suspends and restricts (1) monetary and military assistance to Honduran police and security forces and (2) loans from multilateral development banks, until:
    • legal justice in Honduras is obtained for Berta Cáceres and other human rights defenders;
    • investigating and prosecuting members of military and police forces who are credibly found to have violated human rights and that such violations have ceased;
    • follow the Honduran Constitution and ensure that all domestic police functions are responsible to civilian authority and separated from the command and control of the Armed Forces of Honduras;
    • establishing that the government protects the rights of trade unionists; journalists; human rights defenders; indigenous; Afro-Indigenous, small-farmer, and LGBT activists; critics of the government; and other civil society activists to operate without interference; and
    • effective steps are taken to fully establish the rule of law and to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting, and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses.

This act states that "the Honduran police are widely established to be deeply corrupt and to commit human rights abuses, including torture, rape, illegal detention, and murder, with impunity.”

The bill was reintroduced on March 28, 2019 by Rep. Johnson, Henry C. "Hank," Jr. [D-GA-4] and was subsequently introduced to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Financial Services Committee. The bill currently has 43 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. As of April 2, the only Ohio co-sponsor is Rep Marcy Kaptur (OH-9). The IRTF is asking all US representatives from Ohio to co-sponsor.

2. Cut funding for WHINSEC.

3.Support legislation to suspend training at WHINSEC until an investigation of human rights abuses committed by police and soldier graduates is conducted.

4. Support legislation requiring the disclosure of enrollees at WHINSEC to establish accountability for their human rights records.

5. Demand transparency and cut U.S. funding for the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Colombia

6. End all U.S. military aid to Colombia. As Colombia continues towards peace, it’s time to reorient aid away from militarization and instead support civil society proposals for an equal, inclusive society.

7. Support land restitution and the safe return home for all displaced Colombians. As part of a full implementation of Colombia’s Victims and Land Restitution Law, U.S. assistance to Colombia should provide support for those who have fled from violence for a safe and sustainable return to their homes and their land.

8. In drug eradication programs, end all forms of aerial fumigation and provide viable economic alternatives to farmers who currently grow coca. The United States needs to take a more holistic approach to address drug abuse as a public health issue at home while reexamining the war on drugs and its strategy of using environmentally harmful and militarized solutions.

Mexico

9. Cut military assistance to Mexico.

10. Cut militarized immigration enforcement in Mexico.

11. Increase the amount of aid subject to Mexico meeting human rights conditions.

5- Trump Declares a Cut of Aid Appropriations to Central America

On friday March 29, 2019, President Donald Trump announced that he will be cutting millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Northern Triangle). This announcement was abrupt as only four months ago in- December, 2018- the Trump administration pledged to contribute “$5.8 billion to development in Central America and increasing public and private investment in Mexico via OPIC by $4.8 billion.” Trump is now being met with shock and outrage.

The aid in question has been put toward development and humanitarian assistance, and joint law enforcement efforts, such as anti-gang efforts by the U.S. in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, three countries which are experiencing a mass exodus due to record rates of poverty, drug trade, gang violence and political instability. The decision to cut aid was prompted by the opinion that Northern Triangle countries are not doing their fair share to stem the sizable caravans of migrants travelling northward towards Mexico and the United States.

This point in and of itself has been disputed passionately.  When the U.S. committed $420 million to the “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in Fiscal Year 2017, the governments of these countries committed more than ten times that amount – $5.4 billion of their own resources – to support investments in their own people and to strengthen public safety.

Furthermore, there are some serious holes in the argument that cutting off aid to Central American countries will fix the problem of illegal immigration to the United States; in fact, many argue that this action will have the opposite effect on migrant numbers. “Immigration analysts said the proposed cuts are likely to backfire and risk fostering the root causes of migration such as grinding poverty and widespread violence, as well as lawlessness that feeds government corruption and extortion by criminal organizations.”

Aid cuts would be devastating to the region and would only foster the same instability that is making people flee in the first place. Cuts would waste U.S. taxpayer dollars that have already been invested and programs already set in motion that address violence, corruption and impunity, institutional weakness, and lack of economic opportunity across Central America.

Vicki Gass, Oxfam America Senior Policy Advisor for Central America and Mexico
 
Esposito, Anthony. “U.S. Pledges Billions in Aid to Develop Central America, Curb...” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 19 Dec. 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-mexico/us-pledges-billions-in-aid-to-develop-central-america-curb-migration-idUSKBN1OH23X.
“Oxfam Reaction to Proposed Aid Cuts to Central America.” Oxfam, Oxfam America Inc., 30 Mar. 2019, www.oxfamamerica.org/press/oxfam-reaction-proposed-aid-cuts-central-america/.
“Central America and U.S. Assistance.” USGLC, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, Apr. 2019, www.usglc.org/faq-violence-migration-and-u-s-assistance-to-central-america/.
Lubold, Gordon, and Anthony Harrup. “Trump Officials Try to Defend Plan to Cut Aid to Three Central American Nations.” WSJ, Wall Street Journal, 31 Mar. 2019, org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=L3BSoA3n1%2FWuS2K8%2FKGV2WDwhIPi8bMH.
Malkin, Elisabeth. “Trump Turns U.S. Policy in Central America on Its Head.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/world/americas/trump-turns-us-policy-in-central-america-on-its-head.html.

We Ask U.S. Policymakers to:

  1. Reject a budget that would cut essential development and humanitarian aid to Central America, specifically to Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
  2. Instead call for a budget that cuts military and security aid to Central America, specifically to Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

For the full PDF document follow PDF iconapril_2019_capitol_hill_visit_policy_packet.pdf