TIME: The U.S. Is Failing Central American Refugees

In an op-ed published yesterday by TIME, HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield argues that the United States "needs to lead a regional response to the Central American crisis not just with humanitarian aid and symbolic gatherings on the margins of the General Assembly, but also with deeds."

Hetfield describes his own experiences meeting with some of the Central American refugees served by HIAS' Panama office. "I heard story after story, told by men and women with tears running down their faces, about how innocent families had been targeted by gangs and forced to flee their countries. Often, once one family member is targeted, all are targeted. Family after family told me they fled to “freedom” in Panama—freedom from their teenage daughters being forced to “marry” gang members, freedom from their sons feeling compelled to join the army just to escape gang recruitment, and freedom from being killed or extorted for wearing nice clothes or running a business."

He compares that freedom to what too many Central Americans seeking safety in the U.S. find. "Salvadoran families have tragically come to know what they will face if they flee north instead of south. If they can survive the journey to the U.S., they will face possible detention and deportation. Even mothers with children." He cites the experience of the "Madres Berks" a group of mothers who have been detained, along with their children, for nearly 12 months in Berks County, Pennsylvania. 

"The world has long looked to the U.S. as a leader on refugees and asylum seekers and usually, we rise to the occasion. But for Central Americans, we are falling far short. By violating the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s prohibition against the detention of children, we are betraying our values as a country founded to be a safe haven for those seeking liberty," Hetfield says. 

Click here to read the full article on TIME.com.

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