How President Trump’s spat with Mexico will crush Central American refugees

Judging by the spat between US President Donald Trump and his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, over who will pay for the infamous wall to separate their countries, the two leaders could not be further apart.

But the two presidents have something in common: they are both ignoring the lives of the many men, women and children who are desperately fleeing some of the most violent countries on earth.

Trump’s scandalous Executive Orders are already proving devastating for hundreds of thousands of refugees across the world. But it is Central Americans who are immediately affected by what has now turned into one of the largest human rights crises in the Americas.

You need only look at the fine print in President Trump’s Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements to see it.

The Order allows for migrants, many of them asylum seekers, to be detained as soon as they cross the US-Mexico border and to be immediately deported to Mexico. Many have endured unspeakable horrors in one of the most dangerous journeys on earth.

President Trump’s proposed system violates the fundamental right not to be deported to a country where an individual would be at risk of suffering serious human rights violations, including torture or death.

Mexico simply does not have the resources to deal with what would turn into a new mass flow of deportees. Local authorities in border cities including Tijuana and Mexicali have already said they would not be able to provide adequate reception for high numbers of people being pushed back.

With no protection, migrants and refugees will be at immensely high risk of being kidnapped, suffering extortion, sexual violence or even death.

But even if President Trump’s signature is the one adorning the Executive Orders, this crisis has many authors – notably Mexico which has, for years, failed to protect some of the most vulnerable people escaping extreme violence as they pass over its territory.

Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto – and the Presidents of the countries these people are fleeing from – claim that most of the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children fleeing Central America are economic migrants, people who choose to leave their countries in search of a better life.

This could not be further from the truth.

El Salvador and Honduras are not at war in the sense that Syria is but they might as well be. The United Nations has ranked El Salvador as one of the deadliest countries on earth outside of a war zone, with more than 108 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015. In Honduras the rate was 63.75 per 100,000 inhabitants.

And it is not only the shocking homicide rates that make these countries virtual living hells for hundreds of thousands of people.

You only need to walk the streets of San Pedro Sula in Honduras or the Salvadoran capital San Salvador to see it. Beneath the apparent calm, entire communities are held hostage as ruthless rival armed gangs fight a bloody turf war.

Some groups mark their territory with wall paintings to dictate where locals can and can’t go. Crossing the street to a rival gang’s area could be a virtual death sentence.

The gangs impose “taxes” on local business owners and bus drivers. Refusal to comply with the rules brings a penalty of abuse or even death. The security forces, whose duty is to protect people, often collude with the gangs or turn a blind eye to their brutal reign of terror.

Faced with this Dantean scenario and with nowhere to run, it is no wonder that people are desperately fleeing north in growing numbers.

For Saúl, being turned down by this cruel system meant facing an early and brutal death. The 35-year-old was gunned down by a gang in his native Honduras less than three weeks after he was deported from Mexico in July 2016 after his asylum application was rejected.

Saúl fled the country in November 2015 after he survived a shooting along with his two sons, who were severely injured. The police failed to follow up on his report or offer him protection.

His wife and sons are now living in terror of what might happen to them, desperate to leave the country.

Federal judges in the USA might have temporarily stopped President Trump’s Executive Order on travel bans and the global refugee programme. But, for the moment at least, the fine print on his Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements has seemingly gone unchallenged.

All countries are entitled to regulate the entry and residence of foreign nationals. However, closing the door to those desperately seeking safety is not only against basic international standards but utterly cruel.

Instead, the USA should have sufficient, appropriately located, secure, and regular crossing points at the Mexican border. They should train all security personnel working at the border to ensure they can identify and assist all individuals in need of international protection and allow them to enter the USA.

Presidents Trump and Peña Nieto’s arguments about the wall must not become a smokescreen for the many other barriers that have already gone up to keep refugees from their dream of reaching safety.

This story was originally published in