New Advocacy Guide: A Challenging Moment for the Protection of Migrant Rights in Central America & Across the Migrant Route

Latin America and the Caribbean

In June 2014, a surge of unaccompanied children, youth and families, mostly from the Northern Triangle of Central America, crossing the U.S. border from Mexico lit a political firestorm in the United States.

President Barrack Obama was quick to call the situation at the U.S. border an “urgent humanitarian situation,” but the U.S. political response domestically and throughout the region has focused primarily on increasing border security and stemming the flow of migration rather than humanitarian protections. The Obama Administration enacted executive immigration actions, which, if fully implemented, will give relief from deportation to several million immigrants already in the United States.

However, it intensified U.S. border enforcement, prioritized deportations of those who came after January 1, 2014, and put pressure on the Mexican government to increase deportations of migrants before they reached the U.S. border. Moreover, the Obama Administration refused to recognize the unaccompanied children and families from Central America as refugees in need of international protection. Thousands of family members are being held in detention centers and unaccompanied children face court proceedings often without access to lawyers.

The Obama Administration has maintained a policy of militarized border security at the U.S.-Mexico border in the form of tens of thousands of boots on the ground, surveillance, and more walls in an attempt to address a groundswell of political criticism of the administration’s executive actions on immigration by members of Congress, members of the U.S. public and some media sources demanding a harsher immigration policy.

The Obama Administration also announced in January 2015 a $1 billion aid plan aimed primarily at the Northern Triangle countries, billed as addressing the root causes of violence and poverty driving migration. However, this plan is not fully shaped nor is it likely to be fully approved this year by the U.S. Congress.

This volatile policy debate presents huge risks as well as opportunities for civil society concerned with protecting the human rights in Central America as well as the rights of migrants and refugees throughout the migrant route and at the U.S. border.

In July, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) released a new advocacy guide, A Challenging Moment for the Protection of Migrant Rights and Human Rights in the Northern Triangle of Central America & Across the Migrant Route. This guide is intended as a resource for Central American, Mexican, regional and U.S. civil society organizations and interested individuals to understand the rapidly shifting U.S. immigration and foreign policy towards Central America and Mexico. It suggests ways in which civil society advocates can work together to maximize the opportunities and to minimize the risks in this moment for human rights and migrant rights.

A major component of this collaborative work throughout the region involves tracking U.S. foreign policy and assistance in order to hold governments accountable to human rights conditions. Currently, members of the Republican Party control both chambers of the U.S. Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Traditionally fonder of security assistance than “soft” aid, the Republican leadership is likely to tilt the proposed $1 billion aid package more in the direction of security and border assistance, or simply choose not to fund much of the proposed aid.  Decisions on this aid package will not all be made this year—aid will be proposed by the executive branch each year and included as a part of the annual foreign aid bill, so there will be opportunities each year to review and recommend changes regarding assistance.  Civil society groups must be prepared to recommend to the U.S. government the kinds of assistance that will help and the kinds that will do harm.  They must also be prepared to monitor security assistance from the United States in order to leverage the two kinds of human rights conditions on security assistance that currently exist.

For civil society groups in the United States, Mexico and Central America, U.S. security assistance is often the most difficult form of aid to track and influence. However, the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor—in partnership with LAWGEF and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)— documents all publicly accessible information on U.S. security and defense assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, including arms sales, military and police aid, and training programs. Consult data, resources, and blogs for more information about U.S. security assistance to your country. Here are instructions for how to use the data in English, as well as in Spanish.

There are several tools available to civil society organizations working to improve U.S. foreign policy and aid to Central America —particularly security assistance— through collaboration on these actions:

  • Collaborate together with U.S. human rights groups to use the mechanism of country-wide human rights conditions on U.S. security aid to call for security force improvements and justice for violations.
  • Encourage application of the Leahy Law on U.S. security assistance by tracking human rights violations by specific units receiving U.S. aid and providing that information to the State Department and U.S. human rights partners.


A useful, but underutilized, tool for organizations working to curb impunity and promote human rights is the “Leahy Law.” Last December, the Security Assistance Monitor and the Latin America Working Group released an advocacy guide, Applying the Leahy Law to U.S. Military and Police Aid, to help civil society organizations leverage human rights conditions on aid to their home countries. This resource can be utilized in conjunction with LAWGEF’s new advocacy guide on migrant rights and human rights, in addition to the data made publicly available on the Security Assistance Monitor website, to hold governments throughout the region accountable for human rights.

For more information or press inquiries, please contact:
Lisa Haugaard,
Emma Buckhout,

The full guide in English is available for download here.
The four-page executive summary of the guide is available for download here.