July 8, 2016
To President Barack Obama and the Honorable Jeh Johnson, Secretary U.S. Department of Homeland Security:
As faith leaders and faith-based organizations from many different traditions, we write out of grave concern for the dramatically escalating violence that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (an area known as the “Northern Triangle”). Together, we call on the U.S. government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to those in the U.S. who have fled El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and immediately cease detaining and deporting children, families, and individuals from these families seeking protection here. TPS affords the Administration an important tool to extend temporary protections, and a shield from deportations, to extremely vulnerable populations. We cannot sit idly by while our Central American brothers and sisters are returned to the very violence that has forced them from their homes. Instead of continuing unnecessary detention and dangerous deportation policies, we must carry on our nation’s proud history of hospitality and moral leadership.
As people of faith, our concern stems from shared values rooted in our sacred texts that remind us to love our neighbor and welcome the sojourner among us. The Torah tells us: “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34). In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger, for “what you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). The Qur’an tells us that we should “do good to…those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet” (4:36). The Hindu Taitiriya Upanishad tells us: “The guest is a representative of God” (1.11.2).
Children, families, women, and men are fleeing violence, forced gang conscription, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation in the Northern Triangle. Human rights violations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are compounded by the inability of these governments to protect their own citizens. The Northern Triangle’s death toll in 2015 tallied nearly 17,500, the highest global homicide rate outside of a war zone. From 2005 to 2012, in Honduras alone, murders of women and girls increased by 346 percent, and murders of men and boys grew by 292 percent. Recent findings show that, with a homicide rate of 57 per 100,000 people, Honduras suffers 10 times more homicides than the world average and four times the number of homicides than the average country in the Americas. El Salvador and Guatemala have the top two highest homicide rates in the world for children. Indeed, El Salvador recently overtook Honduras as the murder capital of the world. Officials recorded 6,657 people murdered in El Salvador in 2015, a 70 percent increase from 2014. In El Salvador, the homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 people is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years. Guatemala, too, faces soaring levels of violence due to serious and pervasive armed conflict with the fifth highest homicide rate in the world. These extreme levels of violence encompass all corners of society and those who are deported after seeking asylum are at exceptionally high risk because they fled specific threats or attempts on their lives.
Due to the obvious need for legal recognition of these severe circumstances in the Northern Triangle, we call on the U.S. government to fully recognize these trends as a humanitarian crisis deserving of Temporary Protected Status. The region’s neighboring countries – in particular, Belize, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama – already face a 1,185 percent increase in asylum applications from El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. The United States has moral and legal obligations under international and U.S. law to “non-refoulement,” which ensures that individuals seeking protection are not returned to territories where their life or freedom would be threatened.
The risk of deportation from the United States to the Northern Triangle countries is tangible and profound, and faith communities across the Northern Triangle struggle to protect returning individuals, while also addressing the root causes of violence. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) / Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has made women and children from this region, who recently fled to the U.S. and were not granted asylum, a priority for enforcement. DHE / ICE has already sent many of them back to a region with endemic violence and persecution where they face the imminent threat of being murdered just days or months after they return. Between January 2014 and September 2015, several nationals deported back to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were reported to have been subsequently murdered. The United States has already taken important steps to recognize the need for protection for citizens of Northern Triangle countries by collaborating with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to expand screening and admissions for qualified Central American refugees. However, this program is not yet fully operative, and families and individuals whose lives are at immediate risk often have no other option than to seek protection by fleeing. In the midst of this humanitarian crisis, scaling up enforcement efforts, limiting access to due process, and expanding detention of vulnerable populations is the wrong approach.
The United States has a legal and moral responsibility to not return children, families, and individuals that have been subject to persecution to extremely violent territories. We pray that you may find compassion and ask you to immediately stop the detention and deportation of children, families, women, and men seeking protection from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala and extend TPS designations for these countries. Now is the time to respond to this humanitarian crisis with fair and humane solutions. As people of faith, we urge you to think about the moral imperative to love our neighbor, welcome the sojourner, and care for the most vulnerable among us. Please contact Meredith Owen, Church World Service, at email@example.com with any questions.
For all full list of signers and for footnotes on sources for the facts cited in this article, please see the original PDF of this letter organized by Church World Service.