March 2019 – Across the globe, one person is forced from his or her home every two seconds, a grim trend that has culminated in an estimated 68.5 million people displaced across the globe, the largest levels of human displacement on record. Statistics indicate that women and girls migrate as much as men and boys, comprising 48% of all migrants at the global level, and female migrants now outnumber male migrants in the Americas. The forces driving people to flee their countries—war, persecution, poverty, and climate change—impact everyone. Yet women and girls—along with members of the LGBTQ community—face unique forms of discrimination. This includes threats of gender-based violence and discrimination at every point along their migration journeys. Gender-based violence experienced in one’s home country is often a factor driving migration; may be a “price” of transit; is experienced where migrant women work; and by state actors, including in detention.
Women comprise around half of the people currently living in the United States with vulnerable temporary immigration status, comprising a majority (nearly 53%) of those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and around 44% of those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In addition, women comprise 47% of the undocumented population. Policies designed to support and protect migrants’ human rights must recognize that migration is very much a gendered phenomenon.
Gender-Based Violence Across the Americas
Gender-based violence and impunity have driven thousands of women and families to migrate from Central America in recent years. Adult female apprehensions at the US/Mexico border increased by 93% from 2011-2017, while girls accounted for 32% of child apprehensions.
In Countries of Origin
- As of 2017, a full 94 percent of Latin American and Caribbean countries have legislated national protections for women, yet the region is still the most violent in the world for women, with an average of 12 women murdered each day .
- While many of these crimes are perpetrated by a domestic partner, others are committed by government officials and people in uniform. Powerful transnational gangs also target girls for sexual violence and coerced relationships. Due to pervasive corruption and widespread impunity throughout the region, 98 percent of cases of femicide and violence against women and girls in Latin America went unpunished in 2016.
- Water and natural resource defenders, often indigenous women, are frequent targets of retaliation and violence from both private and state actors.
- Violence is also targeted at members of the LGBTI community. According to Amnesty International and the UNHCR, 88% of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras reported having suffered sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin.
Along the Migration Route:
- Women and girls who migrate to escape gender-based violence in their home countries often find the same dangers along the migration route. Rape is so common along the corridor spanning Central America and Mexico, that women routinely take contraceptives before embarking on their journeys to safety.
- A controversial new US policy that requires asylum seekers “Wait in Mexico” while their cases are being processed, prolongs vulnerability to gender-based violence. Mexico is ranked sixth for gender crimes worldwide, a rate 15 times higher than the global average.
- Two-thirds of individuals who identify as LGBTI reported experiencing sexual and gender-based violence on their journey through Mexico. Transgender women are at extreme risk- three times as likely to experience violence in their migration journey and to suffer from solitary confinement and abuse in detention.
In the United States:
- Gender-based violence and discrimination against immigrant women does not end at the U.S. border. Studies estimate that at least 13,000 people are trafficked into forced labor in the US each year. Women are also over-represented in low-pay, undervalued industries with lack of worker protections.
- Recent changes to U.S. policy restrict access to asylum for many groups, including victims of domestic violence.
- Increasingly punitive U.S. immigration policies relegate many migrant women into irregular or temporary immigration statuses, often without work authorization. Seventy percent of immigrant women attain legal status through family-based petitions, a system under attack by the current administration.
- Aggressive immigration enforcement in the United States has also led to an overall decline in crime reporting among immigrant populations, including a decline in reports of domestic violence, suggesting that immigrant women may forgo seeking help due to fear of finding themselves or family members subject to deportation or detention.
Alianza Americas Responds
It is important to remember that migrant women are not a ‘vulnerable’ population in need of ‘protection’. Rather, migration policies and systems have put women, girls and members of the LGBTQ community in a situation of vulnerability. To change this pattern, International migration governance and U.S. immigration policy must center the voices of women, girls, and members of the LGBTQ community. Alianza Americas, a network of 50 immigrant-led organizations representing more than 100,000 families across the United States, has spent more than a decade brokering a transnational conversation about the gendered realities of human mobility in the Central America- Mexico- US corridor.
- Coordinating speaking tours and webinars that engage transnational voices on gender-based violence and migration, including Neesa Medina, an internationally recognized activist with the Center for Women’s Rights in Honduras.
- Convening fact-finding delegations to highlight the in-country conditions driving migration from Northern Triangle countries, including gender-based violence. Delegations have resulted in the publication of reports, including “Tantamount to a Death Sentence: Deported TPS Recipients Will Experience Extreme Violence and Poverty in Honduras and El Salvador,” and “Seeking Safety: Finding Violence, Detention, and Deportation Along the MesoAmerican Migration Corridor,” and testimonies from women TPS holders that have informed litigation and advocacy efforts.
- Engaging the voices of immigrant and refugee women in the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration via leadership in the Global Coalition on Migration and Women in Migration Network. Served as a gender rapporteur of the civil society days of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, and sent a delegation of women leaders from Alianza Americas member organizations to 2018 global migration meetings in Marrakech, Morroco.
- Providing legal training and material support to shelters in Mexico that are responding to the exodus of women, children, and youth fleeing dangerous conditions in Central America.
Protecting Migrant Women’s Human Rights
A toxic mix of long-term trends and new anti-immigrant policies have put asylum and other humanitarian protections increasingly out of reach for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence . This is a complex problem that will not be solved overnight. However, there are at least three actions that should be taken immediately:
Protect TPS, DED, DACA Holders and Establish Pathways to Permanency
- Immediately protect people who have lived and worked in the United States for years and whose protections that have been canceled under the Trump Administration. This should include all those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) as of December 31, 2016, and other long-term residents whose protections were canceled prior to that date. Currently, over one million individuals are enrolled in these programs, half of whom are female, and now face the pending threat of aggressive ICE enforcement. Immediate protections are urgent, and should move quickly to pathways to legal permanent residency for TPS, DED, and DACA-holders.
- Expand “sanctuary” and other policies that limit interactions between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement. Research shows that these policies create trust between immigrants and law enforcement officials, allowing for open communication, which can enable immigrant women to report crimes without attaching the fear of detention and deportation to the process.
Reform Asylum and Refugee Policy in the United States
- End the ongoing practice of family separation at our border and stop funding unnecessary and harmful detention as asylum seekers wait for their cases to be heard. For survivors of sexual and gender-based violence seeking asylum in the United States, so-called “zero-tolerance” policies exert further trauma and psychological harm with significant long-term consequences. Alternatives to family separation and detention, such as the Family Case Management Program, have demonstrated humane and cost-effective approaches for families seeking asylum.
- Insist that domestic violence be recognized as grounds for asylum protections. While a decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to disqualify claims of domestic violence as valid grounds for asylum has been partially blocked by a federal judge, current Attorney General William Barr has voiced approval for Sessions’ anti-immigrant actions and may seek new ways to deny asylum to victims of domestic violence.
- Ensure access to information and resources for mental health benefits for refugee and asylee populations and address mental health gaps for immigrant survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.
Address Drivers of Displacement, Including Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Countries of Origin
- Ground US foreign policy in the protection of human rights and strategies to transform daily life in countries of origin, including decent jobs and human security, with the goal of reducing displacement and forced migration. This includes investments in ending impunity for sexual and gender-based violence such as resources to conduct adequate crime scene investigations and collect forensic evidence, as well as providing trauma-informed mental health services to survivors.
- Invest in anti-corruption efforts to address widespread impunity for gender-based crimes and all crimes in the region, such as the MAACIH in Honduras and CICIG in Guatemala.
- Adopt and implement prevention and awareness-raising policies to promote the rights of LGBTI people. Human rights reports have highlighted persistent threats coming from both government officials and non-state actors directed at members of the LGBTI community in Central America.