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More than 30 civil society and church organizations, including the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology, have sent a letter to President Biden and Vice President Harris calling for significant change in U.S. policies and relations with Central American countries.

The new Administration has made a few initial steps toward reversing some of the most disastrous and stringent migration policies. Since ending the “Remain in Mexico Policy,” for instance, small numbers of asylum seekers have been processed in the U.S. But the U.S. asylum system is a long way from being fully restored — even to the imperfect state it was in a few years ago. Thousands of asylum seekers are still stuck in Mexico, living in unsafe border towns or makeshift camps.

A woman protests against Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele at the National Congress in San Salvador Feb. 9, 2021. The message on the helmet reads: “No to violence.” (CNS photo/Jose Cabezas, Reuters)

“We will work with you to fully restore access to asylum at our border and to rescind all anti-asylum policies,” the letter pledges.

The letter also offers a comprehensive framework for addressing the root causes of migration in Central American nations. The Administration must seek and incorporate the inputs of a “wide range of civil society organizations in each country,” in particular those “working to build more democratic, just and inclusive societies.”

Historically, the U.S. has devoted significant aid to militaries and repressive governments in Central America. Improving livelihoods in these nations requires a shift in focus toward human rights and the incorporation of criteria for democratic, fair and inclusive development.

The letter highlights the deterioration of democracies, corruption and the human rights crises in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. These governments restrict the work of civil society organizations, squash freedom of expression, bar demonstrations and social protests and curb the struggle for human rights. In these conditions, poverty, violence — especially violence against women — and persecution dominate the political landscape.

At this crossroads, we have a singular opportunity: the U.S. should wield its resources and influence to promote the creation of just, inclusive and democratic societies through collaboration with civil society organizations.

“U.S. assistance and diplomacy can make a valuable contribution to ensuring the conditions for people to live safe and dignified lives in the region, so that migration becomes just an option — and not a strategy for survival,” the letter states.

Key recommendations include:

  • Carefully target aid, especially through local humanitarian organizations, to limit corruption concerns;
  • Establish regular consultations with diverse civil society organizations in both the U.S. and recipient countries;
  • Immediately increase aid to address COVID-related emergencies and recent natural disasters;
  • Focus assistance on the most vulnerable groups, including youth, women, LGBTQ+ communities, Indigenous peoples and Afro-Latino communities.
Read the full letter here.