As thousands of unaccompanied minors have arrived at the United States’ southern border in recent weeks, right-wing politicians and activists have used the refugee situation to push their anti-immigrant agendas, roll back protections for potential trafficking victims and stoke xenophobia among the general public by focusing on gang violence and disease.
Republicans have asserted that this new crisis is proof we should continue to deport hardworking people who have been contributing members of our society for years, while ramping up militarized border enforcement. What is striking—and tragic—in the current political debate is that there is such urgency among our politicians to deport children but no urgency at all to protect workers and create decent work in Central America.
This week AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and the three general secretaries of the major labor confederations in Honduras jointly called on U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and his counterpart in Honduras, Minister of Labor and Social Security Carlos Madero, to address long-standing complaints of violence and workers’ rights abuses in Honduras.
For more than two years, the U.S. Labor Department has failed to act on a Central America Free Trade Agreement complaint alleging serious violations of workers’ rights by the Honduran government. Under the provisions of CAFTA, the U.S. government must respond to complaints and issue a report on findings within six months, which begins a process to remedy the violations.
Had it acted promptly to address the failures of the Honduran government to protect workers, the U.S. could have already been on the way to solving this problem. Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world and, more than other Central Americans, Hondurans are leaving their homes to seek a better, safer life. These families face an acute lack of decent work that is exacerbated by violence, which their own government has perpetuated by failing to stem rampant abuse, intimidation and corruption, and failing to protect its citizens’ rights to join together in trade unions and collectively improve their working conditions.
In the 2012 complaint and in additional cases gathered by Honduran unions since, workers and their allies have documented an ongoing crisis in workers’ rights. It is urgent that the Labor Department issues its report so that the U.S. and Honduras can work together to begin to address the widely recognized failures to defend workers’ rights and promote decent work that are key among the root causes of the current refugee situation.
A decade ago, when Congress debated CAFTA, workers were assured it would help countries such as Honduras develop their economies, raise wages and create jobs. Instead, workers continue to struggle to find good jobs and face oppression for exercising their rights. The drug trade thrives because of the lack of meaningful employment. It’s time we learn from our mistakes and stop forcing countries to accept a model of globalization that puts profits before people and does nothing to solve long-term social problems. We need a new sustainable development agenda that delivers equity, social inclusion and decent work—so that migration becomes a choice and workers retain a “right to stay” in their communities. The United States must shift its foreign policy in the region to focus on decent work and the meaningful protection of labor and human rights, or this crisis will surely continue for years to come.