Politics of Poverty

How do we solve the humanitarian crisis at the southern border?

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southern border picture A picture of the U.S.-Mexico border from Tijuana. Photo: Alyssa Eisenstein/Oxfam America

A new piece of legislation in Congress sets a bold vision for change.

Take action now: Tell Congress to treat people seeking asylum with dignity.

Since assuming office, President Trump’s attacks on immigrants have been relentless. To mention just a few, he has ended Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans and Salvadorans, separated children from their parents, whittled down the right to asylum, reprogrammed funds to build a useless border wall, and stoked anti-immigrant rhetoric.

But this unrelenting assault has—unsurprisingly—not deterred migration. People are still arriving at the US-Mexico border seeking safety. Yet this administration continues to exacerbate a humanitarian crisis for the whole world to see—bodies crammed into holding cells, older children taking care of babies and toddlers, a deceased father and daughter on the shores of the Rio Bravo, and asylum seekers living in squalid, unsafe conditions on the Mexican side of the border.

This seems discouraging and hopeless—but it is not. That’s because a new piece of legislation introduced last month in Congress is a comprehensive solution that addresses the root causes of why people are coming to the US and protects the legal rights of asylum-seekers.

Solving for the right problem

Oxfam and key allies are championing the Northern Triangle and Border Stabilization Act (H.R. 3524), sponsored by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and other senior Democrats. One of a handful of pieces of legislation pending in Congress on these issues, this bill recognizes that there are no short-term fixes and that a long-term strategy and long-term investment is needed.

If passed, the bill will address the root causes of forced migration by:

  • combating corruption through supporting anti-corruption bodies in Guatemala and Honduras and providing technical assistance;
  • strengthening the rule of law and consolidating democratic governance by supporting the attorney generals’ offices and assisting in much needed campaign electoral reforms;
  • tackling extreme poverty and deficient economic development through programs such as providing rural credit for women subsistence farmers and building resiliency to climate change in order to increase food security;
  • and funding civil society organizations that counter sexual, gender-based and gang violence in communities.

At the same time, Rep. Lofgren’s bill seeks to address the humanitarian crisis at the border and the uncertainty of immigrants who have lived in the US for years.

For example, the bill would codify humanitarian standards for detained children awaiting refugee status, guaranteeing adequate child welfare services and recreation time. It would create pathways for legal citizenship for Dreamers (young people brought to the US as children without permanent legal status), promote family reunification, and provide additional resources for strained immigration courts and border processing centers. And by increasing support for border infrastructure, the bill would overturn the Migration Protection Protocol, otherwise known as “Remain in Mexico,” which forces people to stay in unsafe, unhealthy conditions on the Mexican side of the border.

The bill is ambitious and comprehensive (to see the whole bill, click here). That’s why Oxfam America is promoting it and asking other members of Congress to join the 38 other members who are co-sponsoring the bill.

Act now

Legislators on both sides of the aisle know that a comprehensive approach is the only long-term answer to the humanitarian crisis at the border. In our 30+ years working in Central America, we know that poverty is not only a result of where and to whom you were born, or due to an earthquake or hurricane. We have seen that factors such as government corruption, impunity and unfair tax policies also contribute to keeping people poor.

The factors driving people to risk their lives bear repeating: the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have some of the highest levels of gang and gender-based violence, climate-driven food insecurity, and poverty and inequality in the world. Endemic corruption at the highest levels of the public and private sectors also limits these governments from implementing policies to address these dire social and economic problems.

This is why Rep. Lofgren’s bill is so important and why Oxfam America allies such as the Washington Office on Latin America, Alianza Americas, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), and the Latin America Working Group (LAWG) are also supporting it.

Take action now: Tell Congress to treat people seeking asylum with dignity.

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