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Journal of Hispanic Policy

Topic / International Relations and Security

U.S. Immigration Policy Disproportionately Targeting Central Americans

What happens when a piece of a puzzle is lost? Can one still complete the puzzle? What about losing ten pieces? How many pieces can be lost until the puzzle can no longer be assembled? The U.S. immigration system is a complex puzzle that dictates the social, political, and economic integration of immigrants into American culture. Over the years, Congress and the Executive Branch have been plagued with inaction and poorly implemented policies and regulations that have created more barriers than opportunities for immigrant groups. Recent anti-immigrant policy changes towards the asylum process have removed integral protections that jeopardized the wellbeing of Central American migrants. While the Mexican immigrant experience is often centralized due to Mexicans being the largest immigrant population in the U.S, there is no singular Latinx-immigrant experience. It is important to uplift policy changes that disproportionately impact those from other regions to create a robust immigration system that works for all Latinx immigrants. This piece highlights policy changes targeting Central Americans to illustrate this complicated landscape.

In January 2018, the Trump administration announced that it would end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, and Nicaragua because it believed conditions in these countries had improved enough for beneficiaries to return. If the program is terminated, TPS beneficiaries from Honduras and El Salvador will be at risk for deportation and separated from their families. Although multiple lawsuits are challenging the termination of TPS arguing that the termination is unlawful due to racial bias motivations, and because it requires the U.S. citizen children of TPS holders to choose between their country and their family, the future of the program remains uncertain. The uncertainty of whether TPS will be reinstated, extended or terminated is a decision that should concern the entire undocumented Latinx population because it would return TPS beneficiaries to the very violence, political corruption, and human rights abuses that prompted them to flee. Similarly, protections are being stripped away from DACA recipients — where if the United States Supreme Court decides to end the program, Mexican DACA recipients who compromise about 77% of DACA applications, will be subject to deportation, lose employment, and possible education funding that would overall impact their families. Just as DACA was created to allow immigrant youth temporary protection from deportation, TPS was created to protect immigrants fleeing from countries, primarily Central America, experiencing civil war, poverty, and violence. Acknowledging the diverse realities within the Latinx immigrant population is necessary to understand the impacts of these programs in order to achieve representation.

Policies that disproportionately target Central Americans are removing integral protections and ultimately jeopardizing the asylum process. In 2014, when a growing number of unaccompanied minors and families from Northern Triangle countries were emigrating to the U.S. due to poverty, gangs, and U.S-sponsored violence, the Obama Administration implemented the Central American Minors Program (CAM). It allowed for parents legally residing in the U.S. (lawful permanent residents, Temporary Protected Status ) to request an asylum interview for their children residing in one of the Northern Triangle countries. During its three-year course, about 1,500 children were reunited with their families. Despite the program’s success, the Trump administration terminated the program in 2017. The end of the program left the lives of many Central American minors in limbo as they were faced with the dilemma of whether to navigate the complicated and laborious asylum process, or make the dangerous journey to the border––the very scenarios the program intended to end.

Central American immigrants experience additional barriers both in their home countries and in the U.S that violate their rights and endanger their lives, making them the largest Latinx group receiving asylum. Gang violence, political corruption, poverty, and U.S.-sponsored violence that involves cooperating with paramilitary forces and support for totalitarian regimes, force Central Americans to flee. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Department of Justice to implement a ban that denies asylum to migrants who pass through a “safe country,” such as Mexico and Guatemala, before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. The irony is that neither Mexico nor Guatemala are technically ‘safe countries’, in fact suffering some of the highest levels of violence and murder rates in the world. In 2017, Guatemala had a 29% homicide rate while Mexico had a 24% homicide rate. These statistics are concerning as under the ‘Remain in Mexico’ regulation, asylum seekers are forced to await immigration proceedings in Mexico without legal counsel, leaving them in danger of being sexually assaulted, kidnapped, raped and murdered by cartels and corrupt Mexican officials.

Together, these regulations roll back U.S. government efforts to ultimately obliterate a process that provides humanitarian relief and reunites families. On one hand, you have a ruling that eliminates the credible fear interview by basing asylum on transit through a safe third country and on the other, a policy that removes due process.

Without unity in diversity, complete Latinx representation cannot be achieved. The Central American immigrant experience is an example of how policies can disproportionately affect specific populations that entail additional barriers and dangers. Only by elevating our different experiences and understanding how immigrant groups have complex experiences that cannot be simplified or ignored, can we reassemble the jigsaw puzzle of the asylum process to achieve equal representation and garner our power towards immigration reform.