Now, almost all of the unaccompanied children illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico are coming from those nations, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats have described these illegal aliens as “refugees.”
In the seven fiscal years from 2007 through 2013, a mere five Guatemalans and 25 Hondurans were granted refugee status in the United States. During that time, zero citizens of El Salvador or Mexico were granted refugee status despite increased violence in those countries in recent years.
While the total annual number of refugees admitted from all Latin American nations combined has ranged from a low of 2,078 in 2012 to a high of 4,982 in 2010, the vast majority of these refugees came from Cuba and Colombia, followed by Venezuela.
Of those hailing from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who applied for asylum--a category similar to refugee status--records from the U.S. Department of Justice show that from 2009 through 2013 only a small percentage were actually granted that status by the U.S. government.
On average, during this time, only about 6.5 percent of all Guatemalans applying for asylum were granted it. About 5.2 percent of the asylum applicants from Hondurans were granted it, and only 6.8 percent of the applicants from El Salvador.
The debate over “refugees” and “asylum-seekers” has taken center stage on Capitol Hill in recent weeks due to the massive surge of illegal immigrants that have been flooding across the southern border in recent months.
Many Democratic lawmakers have dubbed the situation a “humanitarian crisis,” saying Central Americans are fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty in their home countries and should be given consideration as refugees.
“I think we have to take it on a case-by-case basis,” House Minority Leader Pelosi (D.-Calif.) said during a press conference in Brownsville, Texas.
“We don’t want our good nature abused by those who would misrepresent what’s happening in the United States on the subject of immigration to affect how we deal with a refugee problem--a refugee problem somewhere else in this world, a refugee problem right at our front door,” she said. “So it is you know, case-by-case. We must have due process; we must enforce the law, but we must--and that law includes respecting of the claims of persecution or violence at home, especially for juveniles.”
Likewise, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) said children who are crossing the U.S. border illegally are “refugees” who are fleeing violence.
“This is a humanitarian crisis that we are facing on our southern border and we need to respond,” Crowley said during a press briefing last week, according to Talk Radio News Service. “These are children who are coming across as refugees because of the violence that they are facing in their homelands.”
But while Central America is home to some of the highest murder rates in the world, the murder rates in El Salvador and Guatemala were lower in the most recent year on record (2102) than in previous years.
According to homicide reports from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the per capita murder rate in Guatemala declined from a 46/100,000 high in 2010 to a seven-year low of 38.6/100,000 in 2011. The numbers ticked up slightly in 2012, but still remained lower than the rate in 2005.
In 2009, when the murder rate in Guatemala sat at a high of 47/100,000, the U.S. government granted zero requests for refugee status to Guatemalans and approved only 123 requests for asylum.
In El Salvador, the murder rate fluctuated heavily for years before dropping to a 9-year low of 41/100,000 in 2012. The United Nations reports about 16 percent of all homicides in 2012 were related to gang violence or organized crime.
Since 2000, the highest murder rate in El Salvador was in 2009, when it was 71/100,000. That same year, no Salvadorans were granted refugee status by the U.S. government, and only 100 of the country’s 2,070 asylum applicants were approved.
In Honduras, the murder rate has continued to increase since 2005, reaching a high of 90/100,000 in 2012. But that year, no Hondurans were granted refugee status by the federal government, and only 77 were granted asylum.
Testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Wednesday, Econometrica, Inc. Senior Economist Bryan Roberts told Congress that changes in crime rates alone could not explain the massive increase in migration from these countries, which he noted “all began in Fiscal Year 2012.”
“When one considers the evidence across the three countries, changes in crime rates and other underlying conditions are not compelling as an explanation for why all surges began in Fiscal Year 2012,” he told congress. “There are no changes in murder rates in 2012 that suggest an upsurge in violence in that year that would have triggered the surges.”
“In El Salvador, the murder rate fell significantly in 2012,” Roberts pointed out, adding the murder rate in Guatemala has been stable since it fell in 2010.
“Given that the dramatic rise in Honduras’s murder rate and other reported crime began in 2009, it is surprising that its surge didn’t start before 2012,” Roberts continued, concluding that “high levels of crime, violence and lack of personal security likely play an important role for setting the stage for the surges, but they do not explain the triggering or timing of the surges in fiscal year 2012.”