Frontera Fund News

Helping the Refugees from Hell


Millions of refugees are fleeing horrific violence in Central America. Here’s what the United States – and you – can do to help.

Some parts of Central America resemble hell itself – an underworld dominated by narco-cartel demons who murder, rape and enslave people through violence and drug addiction. These devils collude with cops and corrupt government officials to unleash havoc with impunity.

Millions of Central American men, women and children have fled this nightmare. Since 2010, the U.S. and Mexico have apprehended nearly 1 million migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Of those, 800,000 have been deported, including more than 40,000 children. Many deportees have been murdered upon their return.

The United States’ response has largely been one of exasperation. Many Americans view the lone children crossing our border as little demons themselves – unwanted imps with outstretched hands, begging for freebies. Those who want to solve the problem are faced with an overwhelming question: How do you reform hell itself?

“If the United States is serious about helping Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, it should not be shy about demanding structural changes.”

We’ve put together a list of ways you can personally help Central American refugees, plus actions the United States can take to aid the asylum seekers at our doorstep and ensure that in the future, they won’t need to flee.

• Volunteer with or donate to the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. This Arizona-based nonprofit provides pro bono legal representation and Know Your Rights presentations for migrants, including unaccompanied minors from Central America.

• Support Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents unaccompanied immigrant and refugee children.

• Write a letter to your U.S. representatives asking them to stop paying Mexico millions of dollars to deport Central Americans, to raise the number of refugees permitted in the U.S. to pre-September 11th levels, and to provide strategic aid to Central America. On her website, Sonia Nozario, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, provides a template you can use to craft a letter.

• Foster a refugee child. This is a huge commitment and requires a lengthy certification process, but for many people, family is the greatest gift they can give. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service connects would-be foster parents with foster programs throughout the country.

• The U.S. government should support religious organizations in providing sanctuary for Central American refugees. In the 1980s, Reverend John Fife started the Sanctuary movement to house Central American civil war refugees in churches and temples. He since cofounded No More Deaths, which provides temporary refuge and basic needs for migrants at a borderland campsite and at Tucson’s Southside Presbyterian Church. But the U.S. government considers some of these charitable activities illegal and often undermines them. Instead, the government should encourage religious groups to sponsor refugees.

• Like Europe’s system for responding to Syrian refugees, the U.S. should organize a system for sending Central American refugees throughout the United States, Canada, and safer Latin American countries.

• According to Dr. Kevin Casas-Zamora of the Inter-American Dialogue policy center, the U.S. should fund the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras). Congress is currently considering supporting the alliance, whose goal is to stimulate the countries’ productive sectors, develop work opportunities for people, and rebuild law enforcement institutions.

• The U.S. should also help Central American countries boost their economies by nurturing free trade agreements with the U.S., according to Casas-Zamora. In addition, the U.S. should work with Central America to develop renewable energies and technology that can strengthen their long-term economies.

• El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras must work independently to eliminate corruption and foster checks and balances in their governments. But the U.S. should also insist that these countries reform their political and law enforcement systems and introduce progressive tax reform. “If the United States is serious about helping Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador,” Casas-Zamora says, “it should not be shy about demanding those structural changes.”

For more information on what you can do to help Central American refugees, visit this resource page from social scientist and Central American expert Elizabeth Kennedy.