This summer, as thousands of women and children fled El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico for the United States, policymakers and pundits quarreled over the origins of, and solutions to, the crisis. One camp focused on the factors that pushed people from their homelands: pervasive violence, entrenched poverty, and the failure of comprehensive immigration reform to allow families living on opposite sides of the border to reunite legally. Another blamed those factors that pull people north: lax enforcement of immigration policies and the (erroneous) impression that newly arrived unaccompanied minors would be entitled to stay in the United States under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The Obama administration, fearing the political fallout from being branded as too lenient on immigration, decided to send a clear message—that those crossing the southwestern border would be sent back home. For now, many of them still await processing by immigration officials. Women with young children have been detained for weeks, often in abysmal conditions. The flow of new migrants to the United States has since waned, but even as their plight fades from the headlines, lawyers continue to challenge the Obama administration’s aggressive detention and deportation policies as being in violation of international law.
Last month, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting the deportation of vulnerable refugees back to Honduras, which is in the throes of what is arguably the worst human rights crisis in the hemisphere. In the aftermath of the 2009 coup that deposed Honduras’ democratically elected president, the homicide rate in Honduras is the highest in the world. Much of the violence is related to gangs and drug trafficking, but political repression is also rampant. Hundreds of journalists, lawyers, judges, land rights activists, indigenous leaders, human rights defenders, LGBT activists, and opposition leaders have been killed, and thousands more live in the shadow of intimidation and harassment.