There is No Asylum Here: Displacement During a Pandemic

If conditions for refugees and asylum seekers to seek safety from persecution were not already near impossible in the U.S., Mexico and Central America, then the COVID-19 pandemic certainly pushed the situation to the edge. The pandemic has exacerbated the personal and health insecurities of forced migrants across the Americas and specifically from Central America and Mexico. Under-resourced health systems and poverty crippled by corruption and powerful criminal groups and gangs put Mexico and Central American countries on the map for some of the highest per capita rates of COVID-19 in the world. To add salt to the wound, the U.S. and Mexico continue to deport migrants to these high-risk countries, creating additional vectors of transmission. 

Despite the risks and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, forced migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador continues. From continued violence (Central America has the 10 most dangerous cities in the world) to dismal rates of children out of school (1.5 million kids in Guatemala alone), conditions are ripe for continued displacement this year and in the foreseeable future. For example, in this past year over 42 percent of migrants fleeing this region report a violent death in the family. So it isn’t surprising that between 2019 and 2020 Central Americans filed 54,000 new asylum applications, an 86% increase from the year before.

Despite dangerous and unlivable conditions in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, Mexican and U.S governments have increased measures to control the migrant flows at and within their borders. Part of their shared approach is to decrease asylum grants and, generally, access to the asylum process by stopping individuals at their southern borders through policies like the Migrant Protection Protocols (aka “Remain in Mexico) and other Asylum Cooperation Agreements (ACAs), which are agreements that allow the U.S. to send asylum seekers from other countries to Central America before having a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S.  A Human Rights Watch 2020 report provides testimony of individuals told at the U.S. border ““there is no asylum” and “there are no Central Americans allowed into the United States.” 

For migrants apprehended and detained, conditions in detention centers are inhumane and alarming at best. Over half of ICE detention facilities have reported COVID-19 cases; in some facilities where tests have been conducted, rates of infection are as high as 45 percent. Despite these risks, asylum seekers are not being released and in some jurisdictions denial of bond is at 99 percent for all applications. In the middle of all of this, new detention centers continue to be built with 40 new ICE detention centers opened since 2017. 

The dehumanization of our Central American and Mexican migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker communities cannot and will not be tolerated or normalized 

At Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), we are committed to promoting the protection of the most vulnerable Latino and Latin American communities, with a focus on issues of migration as critical to their safety,  protection and livelihood. As part of the philanthropic sector, we have mobilized alongside our partners to guarantee rights and protections for refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

Get Involved

We support a network of organizations along the U.S.-Mexico-Central America migrant corridor to address the root causes and often destabilizing impacts of migration as it is currently experienced by focusing on building power in our communities through strengthened leadership, influence, and equity of migrant populations.

Please learn more by: 

Support our COVID-19 Rapid Response Migration Fund: This Fund resources organizations in the U.S., Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala that are responding to the needs of  migrants, refugees and asylum seekers during the pandemic. See our current RFP here or reach out to our team at [email protected] to invest in our Rapid Response Fund.

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