© 2014 Stephen Ferry. Returned migrants at the Attention Center for the Returned Migrant, San Pedro Sula airport, Honduras.

Photo of Honduran migrants being returned to a country many of them fled from in fear. By Stephen Ferry.

While the news is full of reports about the crisis of migrants and asylum seekers from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia arriving in Europe, the plight of Central Americans desperate to escape violence and poverty by fleeing to the U.S., remains an under-told story.

Asylum seekers in Europe frequently face inadequate reception conditions and a fractured system for applying for asylum. And some EU governments – like Hungary – are using fast-track procedures to push those seeking asylum back across their borders before their claims are properly assessed.

But the U.S. has employed a version of such fast-track procedures at its border for a decade. Many asylum seekers who cross our southern border are quickly returned to the places they fled with no chance to tell their story and request protection. That puts people fleeing for their lives at serious risk.

Federal authorities in the U.S. routinely use expedited deportation procedures for most migrants arrested at the border. U.S. law requires Border Patrol officers to refer anyone who expresses fear of going back – no matter the reason – to a longer, private interview with a trained asylum officer. That person's job is to assess whether the migrant has a "credible fear" of harm if they are sent back. If so, the asylum seeker can apply for refugee protection before an immigration judge.

But Human Rights Watch has found that Border Patrol officers regularly fail to follow these procedures.

“The officers don’t pay attention to you," a Honduran man seeking asylum in the U.S. recently told Human Rights Watch. "If you say you are afraid, they say ‘We can’t do anything.’ All they said to me was that if I came back they would give me six months in prison.” The man said that in Honduras he had survived being shot seven times by gang members who also killed his brother-in-law. But when he fled to the U.S., border officials deported him back to Honduras within days. Human Rights Watch representatives found him there in hiding, and spoke with him last year.

Government data obtained by Human Rights Watch via the Freedom of Information Act backs up his account. Of the nearly 15,000 Hondurans placed in fast-track procedures at the border in 2011 and 2012, Border Patrol quickly deported 98 percent and referred only 2 percent for a second-step credible fear assessment by asylum officers. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with many people escaping violent threats from gangs and epidemic levels of violence against women and children.  Asylum officers have found that over 90 percent of Honduran families who are interviewed in that second step are found to have "credible fear."

On top of these flawed processes at the border, since last summer the U.S. government has contracted with private prison companies to detain nearly 3,000 children and parents to deport them through these expedited procedures. The Border Patrol generates countersigned, sworn, official government records for the "results" of their border interviews about fear, including with these children.

In one case Human Rights Watch has examined, a baby as young as 11 days old purportedly told an officer he entered the United States "with the intention of going to Dodge City, Kansas to reside and seek employment."

A key lesson of the global migration crisis of recent months is that prosperous countries in particular should be doing all they can to respond to asylum seekers crossing borders in a rational and humane way. For the U.S., it means taking a hard look at, and correcting flawed border screenings, mass detentions including of families, and summary procedures that flatly turn away those in need.


Clara Long is a researcher with the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch who concentrates on immigration issues.


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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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