Monday, July 28, 2014

Manuscript Monday—Central American refugees, then and now

On November 17, 1983, the ACLU issued a thoroughly researched and persuasively argued release, demanding an end to the deportations of Salvadorans from the United States during the Salvadoran Civil War. A copy of this release (the first page of which is reproduced below) forms a part of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California records, held at CHS. Spanning the years 1900 to 2000, this collection documents major social and political conflicts in California and nationwide, from the 1934 waterfront and general strike to the Central American human rights and refugee crisis in the 1980s.

ACLU News release, 1983 November 17, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California records, MS 3580, courtesy, California Historical Society
The ACLU's 1983 release echoes many of the issues raised by the humanitarian crisis at the Mexico/U.S. border today. Along with other groups, the ACLU advocated for the extension of Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD) status to Salvadoran nationals due to pervasive war conditions and "an ambiance of violence" in El Salvador. Although the Reagan administration had extended EVD status to refugees from Ethiopia, Poland, Afghanistan, and other countries, it argued that individual Salvadorans could apply for asylum status, making more broadly applied EVD protections unnecessary. The ACLU countered that the asylum process was insufficient to address the Salvadoran refugee crisis: "EVD is intended not for those who fear individual persecution, as in cases of asylum, but rather for those with a fear of generalized violence." Moreover, they argued, extending EVD status would ease pressure on the already overburdened immigration courts.

In November 2013, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its Mission to Central America: The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States (available online at Echoing some of the arguments the ACLU made thirty years earlier, they assert:

A significant number of migrants, particularly youth, have valid asylum claims. While the popular perception of many in the United States is that migrants come here for economic reasons, the delegation found that a growing number are fleeing violence in their homelands. The increased number of those requesting asylum shows a more complex picture, with many children, for example, entering the United States to join family members in search of security. Denying them asylum and sending them back to the gangs and drug traffickers persecuting them could ensure their demise.

Marie Silva
Archivist & Manuscripts Librarian
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