Washington, DC – Refugee Council USA cautiously welcomes the Biden Administration’s announcement of plans to significantly enhance the capacity of the United States to undertake refugee processing in Latin America. However, it is deeply concerning that these plans have been rhetorically and programmatically linked to the recent slew of anti-asylum policies preceding the end of Title 42, which prevent those fleeing harm from seeking safety at the US border. RCUSA notes that the Administration’s commitment to expanding refugee processing in the region not only reaffirms the central importance of the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), but also recognizes that many families and individuals fleeing countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are refugees fleeing violence and persecution. RCUSA appreciates the investment in US resettlement as a critical tool to offer permanent protection to the most vulnerable, yet firmly rejects the Administration’s plans for a Trump-era asylum ban that was previously blocked through court intervention.
By opening new regional processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia, the United States acknowledges the presence of a significant number of forcibly displaced people in this hemisphere who deserve the chance for lasting protection from harm. These steps will help bring the Administration closer to meeting its goal of admitting 15,000 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean this fiscal year, as well as support the commitments made in the June 2022 Los Angeles Declaration to promote access to protection.
However, any expansion in refugee processing in Latin America should be conducted in consultation with refugee communities and in a sustainable manner; and the additional resources required to establish these processing centers must not take away from ongoing USRAP processing globally. It is imperative that refugees who have languished in the US resettlement pipeline – such as Afghans, Somalis, Ukrainians, and others – are able to reunify with loved ones and a safe place to call home.
The Administration has announced that the centers will be used not only to process refugees for resettlement in the United States (as well as in Canada and Spain), but also to identify applicants qualified for other pathways to the US, including humanitarian parole, family unification, and labor visas. This plan raises a number of operational and normative questions that RCUSA hopes the Administration will address in the coming weeks.
RCUSA is troubled by early implications that these regional processing centers will become part of the apparatus disqualifying people seeking asylum from exercising their legal rights. RCUSA urges the Administration to ensure that there is equitable access to protection, and to not link enhanced refugee processing capacity with further restrictions on the right to access asylum at the border. Our country’s moral and legal obligations – as reconfirmed in the LA Declaration – prohibit the United States from returning individuals to circumstances where their lives are in danger. A tragic fire recently killed at least 40 migrants and asylum seekers who were locked in a detention center in the northern Mexican city of Juarez, providing a vivid reminder of the life-threatening dangers facing asylum seekers who are turned away.
“We cautiously welcome the Biden Administration’s plan to resettle significantly higher numbers of refugees from Latin America,” said RCUSA Executive Director John Slocum. “Opening new regional processing centers in Guatemala and Colombia will help provide protection to thousands of individuals and families fleeing persecution in their home countries. We call on the Administration to strengthen the US resettlement program by expanding refugee processing in Latin America and improving access to the USRAP globally, particularly for those who have waited years for resettlement already. At the same time, the Administration is continuing its troubling trend of further restricting the right to seek asylum at the US-Mexico border. This expansion of refugee processing must not serve the Administration’s continued erosion of asylum access, nor come at the expense of people seeking asylum at the border – for they, too, are refugees in need of protection.”
RCUSA also calls on Congress and the Administration to furnish adequate funding to facilitate scaled-up refugee processing in Latin America and around the world – and to ensure our communities have the resources to help resettled refugees integrate and thrive in the United States.
RCUSA is a diverse coalition advocating for just and humane laws and policies, and the promotion of dialogue and communication among government, civil society, and those who need protection and welcome. Individual RCUSA members do not all address all refugee-related issues, nor do all individual members approach common refugee-related issues identically.