CRS Urges Increase of Refugee Visas for Central American Children

from Catholic Relief Services
Published on 07 Oct 2014 View Original

Alsy Acevedo
Catholic Relief Services

CRS Urges Increase of Refugee Visas for Central American Children
Offers Five Fixes for Youth in Central America

Baltimore, MD, October 3, 2014 — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) applauds the Administration’s plan to allow several thousand Central American young children to apply for refugee status in the United States from their home countries as a first step to address the needs of so many children fleeing violence. The 4,000 refugee visas that would be allocated to people living in Latin America and the Caribbean are necessary but not sufficient, considering more than 60,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border this year.

“Many of the children and vulnerable families in this mass exodus are refugees — according to the internationally-accepted definition of that term — and the United States government has a moral duty and legal obligation to determine those who require refugee status and to provide proper protection while applying,” said Sean Callahan, Chief Operating Officer for Catholic Relief Services. “Considering the number of children at risk it would be more helpful to augment the number of refugee visas available.”

Callahan recently traveled to Central America to meet with government officials, members of marginalized communities and Church partners to discuss real solutions to the realities they face. “I not only heard of, but witnessed the increasing desperation of families due to inescapable violence for many children, degrading poverty, and family separation,” Callahan said. “In the long run, we must help to provide security and opportunity in their home communities to stem this migration.” As part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ annual conference, Callahan participated of the panel Unaccompanied Central American Minors: Long Term Solutions where he presented five fixes to help youth in the region:

Revitalize rural agriculture: Rural Central American economies have struggled to compete in the globalized marketplace. Public-private partnerships, investments in technology and training can help small farmers to significantly increase their incomes and stability. CRS’ ACORDAR program in Nicaragua has more than doubled incomes for over 7,000 coffee farmers by helping them to form 107 cooperatives and invest in technology and business know-how. With coffee production at its lowest levels in a century owing to coffee leaf rust, farmers need ACORDAR and other investments to provide for their families and stay on their land.

Invest in youth: Nearly half the population in Central America is under 20 years old. Many teenagers never finish 9th grade and are unemployed. There is hope. They need opportunities like the YouthBuilders program that reached 5,000 youth in just four years; 80% of the graduates returned to school, found jobs, or started microenterprises. Such programs should be scaled up and replicated throughout Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Protect children: The child protection systems in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are weak. Schools must be established as safe zones, and their quality must be increased. Law enforcement personnel should be better paid and better trained. Robust child welfare services, including foster-care, family reunification and family reintegration services must be established. Increased interdiction in Mexico only shifts the problem; the United States must help protect children there and in Central America.

Strengthen families: Families are being torn apart by violence, poverty, and migration. They have few support systems. Programs to help families communicate effectively, manage conflict without violence, and bond can reduce the incidence of domestic violence and help prevent children from eventually looking to gang life for answers. Community centers, day care, and other family support programs can keep families together and provide opportunity.

Interrupt the violence: Repressive policies don’t work. It is possible, however, to stop violence by working with youth in gangs, those incarcerated and their families to stop the shooting, and begin to reduce repeat offenses and helping those gang involved youth begin to lead healthy and productive lives. As Fr. Greg Boyle of Los Angeles says, “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

*Sean Callahan available for comment

*High resolution photos available upon request

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. CRS eases suffering and provides assistance to people in need in 93 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. Our programs touch nearly 100 million lives. CRS has been helping people in need for more than 70 years. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, Twitter at @CatholicRelief and @CRSnews, Google+, Pinterest and YouTube.