Migration from Violence is a Right
Karen Paz’s partner once intended to burn her face with a pan of boiling butter, but missed and burned her left shoulder instead. As a result, she fled Honduras to seek asylum in the United States.
Gender-based violence is one of the most common yet least recognized human rights abuses, affecting one in three women. Like Karen Paz, many of those who reach the U.S. southern border are women fleeing gender-based violence. The Trump administration’s approach to the border crisis fails to protect and uphold women’s safety and access to asylum procedures. The U.S. must enact domestic and regional policies that welcome Central American women with compassion, respect, and dignity.
Gender-based violence in the Northern Triangle stems from a culturally accepted sense of men’s ownership over women. Violence committed by intimate partners is a daily occurrence for women. Additionally, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala rank first, second, and seventh respectively for global rates of female homicides. Issues of impunity, gang-related violence, economic opportunity, and poverty further exacerbate gender-based violence. These factors drive women to seek refuge in the U.S. and neighboring countries.
Women fleeing gender-based violence must be able to fully access asylum protection at the U.S. border. This means U.S. border officials need to recognize gender-based violence as persecution grounds for asylum. Information about asylum procedures should be readily available. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Corps Officers should conduct the initial screening interviews at the border to increase the speed and effectiveness of the asylum system. These efforts will reduce women’s risk of detention and forced return.
The U.S. must do away with its third country agreement with Guatemala. The agreement requires those intending to seek asylum in the U.S. to do so first in Guatemala. However, Guatemala lacks an adequate asylum processing system and is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Women should not be forced to seek help in a country that is ill-equipped to protect them from the same dangers they faced in their country of origin.
The U.S. must also increase regional assistance. Consider Costa Rica, where the U.S. has set in place a small-scale, in-country refugee processing program to address regional displacement. Similar U.S. programming must also be implemented in Panama and Belize, where gender-based violence does not pose as large of a threat to women’s prosperity. This provides women fleeing the Northern Triangle with re-location options not only in the U.S. but also close to home.
The Trump administration claims its policies place more responsibility on Central American countries to curtail the U.S. border crisis. It claims such policies secure the U.S. border from national security threats. But women’s migration from violence, instability, and insecurity is not a crime; it’s a right. The U.S. has an obligation to assist the Northern Triangle’s most vulnerable. When left unfulfilled, the U.S. betrays its legacy as a beacon of hope and refuge.
Karen Paz’s journey to asylum in the U.S. embodies resiliency, strength, and courage—values the U.S. has long cherished in the face of adversity. It’s a triumphant story of hope that demands the U.S. to enact domestic and regional policies that welcome Central American women with compassion, respect, and dignity.