Honduran migrants rest in the main square of Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas state, Mexico, on October 19, 2018.

© 2018 Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images

(Washington, DC) – Central American refugees fleeing for their lives have a right to seek asylum in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019. The Trump administration uses fearmongering to claim that what the US immigration system needs is some kind of border barrier, when what it really needs is to invest in an immigration policy that fairly processes asylum claims.

El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with news reports indicating that many homicides are targeted. Honduras also has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Violence and extortion by criminal organizations remain serious problems in Guatemala as well. Several United Nations agencies working in Central America have noted that violence forces hundreds of thousands of people into “internal displacement” or to flee the country in search of international protection.

“Refugees in Central America are literally fleeing for their lives, walking thousands of miles to bring themselves and their families to safety,” said Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch.” The US has a responsibility to hear these asylum claims and to ensure that those hearings are fair and afford due process to all asylum seekers.”

In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times.

In El Salvador, gangs battle for territorial control. They forcibly recruit children and subject some women, girls, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to sexual slavery. Gangs kill, disappear, rape, or displace those who resist them, including government officials, security forces, and journalists. Security forces have been largely ineffective in protecting the population and have committed egregious abuses, including the extrajudicial execution of alleged gang members, sexual assaults, and enforced disappearances.

Honduras has widespread corruption and abuse in the police force and judicial system, which are ineffective in squelching the violence in the country.

“Many Central American countries are facing epidemic levels of targeted homicide, rape, and disappearance, so many families and individuals feel they have no choice but to take the dangerous and difficult journey to the US border,” Long said. “While not all Central American migrants are coming to the US to flee violence and persecution it is critical for border authorities to allow all anyone seeking asylum a swift and fair hearing.