Ahead of VP Biden’s Trip to Guatemala, Experts Discuss Child Refugee Issue, Recommendations on International and U.S. Response

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June 19, 2014

Contact: Tanya Arditi
Phone: 202.741.6258
Email: tarditi@americanprogress.org

Contact: Katy Green
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Washington, DC – The increased numbers of children fleeing violence in Central America and seeking refuge in nearby countries, including the United States, has become a humanitarian issue that requires an international, holistic, and caring response.

On a press call today, human rights, immigration policy, and legal experts gathered to explain the factors that are driving children to leave their home countries, and what steps the international community can take to resolve the situation comprehensively.

According to Michelle Brané, Director of Migrant Rights and Justice, Women’s Refugee Commission, “This is not just a U.S. Humanitarian situation.  It is a regional humanitarian crisis. Children are seeking protection wherever they can find it.  In the effort to bring order to his crisis, it is important that we don’t send children seeking safety back into dangerous situations.  We must address the root causes.”

“The push factors of high unemployment and family reunification alone are not enough to send these kids from their homes in Honduras to the United States. It is the unceasing violence and the perception that Hondurans are not safe that makes families desperate enough to send their children on the perilous journey north,” said Juan Sheenan, country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Honduras.

Tomorrow, Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Guatemala and meet with this country’s president, as well as senior officials from Honduras and El Salvador, to discuss this situation and appropriate actions to be taken on all sides.  On today’s call, speakers also assessed the United States’ response to date and laid out recommendations for how the Obama Administration should handle this situation so that children are cared for, have access to international protection, and have safe and secure options back in their home countries.

Said Wendy Young, President, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), “The United States is experiencing a refugee crisis – children as young as toddlers are fleeing for their lives and seeking safety within our borders. As a global leader in the protection of the most vulnerable, we must ensure not only that these at-risk children have meaningful access to safety in the United States but that we use our influence in the region to support programs that address the root causes of this mass migration—not just through combatting the criminal networks of gangs and narco-traffickers but also by supporting education and other human development programs that will give kids a meaningful opportunity to remain home safely.”

Concluded Kevin Appleby, Director of Migration Policy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “The Vice President’s trip demonstrates that this is as much a foreign policy challenge as an immigration one.  Until the Central American governments, with the help of the United States, are able to address the root cause of violence and insecurity, we will continue to see children fleeing for their lives.”

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