Thursday, July 10, 2014

Central Americans and Asylum Policy in the Reagan Era


The recent influx of Central American immigrants to the United States is not the first time that nation has decided it was necessary to respond to increased migration from Central America.  In this piece, Susan Gzesh discusses how 1980 marked the opening of a decade of public controversy over U.S. refugee policy unprecedented since World War II. Large-scale migration to the United States from Central America began, as hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans fled north from civil war, repression, and economic devastation. The U.S. government, immigrant rights lawyers, and activists skirmished for more than a decade over how the nation would treat the Central Americans.

As the lawsuit filed yesterday suggests, we can expect litigation to be a necessary tool to protect the right sof the new migrants.  One especially important (and successful) piece of litigation challenging the U.S. government's detention and efforts to encourage "voluntary departure" was Orantes-Hernandez v. Thornburg (9th Cir. 1990); the court enjoined some of the most extreme violations of the law.  Recall that the Reagan administration employed detention  (including detention in remote areas where few pro bono counsel were available to represent the detainees), fast deportation hearings, and active encouragement to facilitate the removal of large numbers of Central Americans.  Sound at all familiar?


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