Media CenterCRS Calls On Obama Administration to Protect Children Fleeing Central America

You are here


Jossie Flor Sapunar
Catholic Relief Services
[email protected]
(410) 833-2011


BALTIMORE, MD,  January 6, 2016 – Catholic Relief Services (CRS) denounces the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to round up and deport Central American children and families who recently arrived in the US to escape extreme violence in their home countries.

“These children flee forced recruitment by violent gangs in countries where the police fail them,” said Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice president for Government Relations and Advocacy. “It is unconscionable that the U.S. government would return them to such conditions. The consequences could be life-threatening.” 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained more than one hundred Central American families—in some cases pulling children out of their homes—in a handful of states over the weekend as part of a nationwide operation to deport recently arrived children and families who have been ordered removed.

Many children and families will be in grave danger if they are returned, sought out by the gangs from which they fled; these gangs increasingly collaborate with narco-traffickers. A “join or die” policy is common—kids who refuse to join the gang are killed.  These children and youth are fleeing this sort of violence that in many cases has already claimed a sibling or other family member.

The Northern Triangle of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, in particular, suffer from among the highest youth homicide rates in the world. In huge areas of the capital cities and many rural areas, rampant criminal violence is exacerbated by corruption and unchecked by weak state institutions; it has sidelined authority and made criminal elements the de facto power. They can be impossible to escape.

“The failure of the police and courts in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to protect these children and youth is tragic,” said O’Keefe.  “By contrast, the United States must live up to its ideals and ensure that our justice system responds by treating these children and families as victims, not criminals, and offering protection, not deportation.  This is particularly critical given the reality that these asylum seekers so often lack adequate representation in courts.”

O’Keefe praised the Obama Administration for asking for additional funding in the Fiscal Year 2016 budget to address the root causes of this flight: violence, poverty, and social exclusion.  He further applauded Congress for providing development assistance in the omnibus appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016 to help children to stay in school; to help youth develop the necessary skills to find work; and to strengthen police and judicial systems to ensure security in the most dangerous (and usually very poor) neighborhoods. 

CRS has successfully partnered with the U.S. government and local partners in the Northern Triangle to help children to remain in school and build their work skills, and to help families to restore their agricultural livelihoods.

“It takes time to address these long-term challenges,” O’Keefe said. “In the meantime, the United States must live up to its obligations and values, and provide protection for the children and families fleeing violence.  ” 

CRS addresses the reasons why children make the perilous journey to the United States. In response to high youth unemployment and mounting violence, it implements innovative programs for young people at risk. Some programs reduce child labor and help children stay in school. Others work with young people in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Central America to build leadership, entrepreneurship, vocational and life skills to transform their lives and communities. The YouthBuilders project has prepared some 6,000 young people in El Salvador for entry into the job market and worked with more than 250 private companies to help secure much-needed jobs. 

Interviewees Available

  • Bill O’Keefe is available for comment in English.
  • Rick Jones, senior advocacy advisor for CRS in El Salvador, is available for comment in English and Spanish.

To arrange for an interview, contact Jossie Sapunar at her information above.


Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. The agency alleviates suffering and provides assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality. CRS’ relief and development work is accomplished through programs of emergency response, HIV, health, agriculture, education, microfinance and peacebuilding. For more information, please visit or and follow CRS on social media: Facebook, @CatholicRelief@CRSnewsYouTube, Instagram and Pinterest.

Jim Stipe

Digital and Social Media Manager

Jim Stipe
January 6, 2016

Based in Baltimore, MD

As the digital and social media manager, Jim oversees Catholic Relief Services’ social media channels, shoots photos and video, and uses digital and visual tools for creative storytelling. He also manages the CRS Newswire, which provides a range of information related to poverty and development....More