U.S. Says It Plans to Expand Central American Refugee Admission Program

Thursday, July 28, 2016
Central American refugees at U.S. border (photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

 

By Julie Hirschfeld Davis, New York Times

 

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday announced a substantial expansion of a program to admit Central American refugees to the United States, conceding that its efforts to protect migrants fleeing dangerous conditions has been inadequate and left too many vulnerable people with no recourse.

 

Currently, the program allows unaccompanied Central American children to enter the United States as refugees. It will be expanded to include their entire families, permitting siblings over the age of 21, parents and other relatives who acted as “caregivers” to qualify.

 

Officials could not say how many refugees might be eligible under the expansions, but the change is a potentially significant one, essentially opening a new channel for Central American families to gain legal entrance to the United States.

 

“Our current efforts to date have been insufficient to address the number of people who may have legitimate refugee claims,” said Amy Pope, a deputy homeland security adviser.

 

The White House also said it had reached an agreement with Costa Rica to serve as a temporary host site for the most vulnerable migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras while they wait to be processed as refugees, once they have undergone security screening in their home countries. The U.N. high commissioner for refugees has agreed to set up an unusual process for reviewing requests for people in their home countries to qualify as refugees and send them to Costa Rica if they are facing immediate danger.

 

While administration officials have long said they were working to address the root causes of the migration from Central America that surged in 2014, their primary response to date has been to try to deter migrants from making the dangerous journey to the United States or entrusting their children to smugglers.

 

Only 600 people have entered the United States as refugees since the influx began, officials said, including 267 children under the program created for minors with parents living in the United States who are citizens or legal immigrants. Now, that program will be broadened to family members of such children.

 

“It shows the administration now recognizes this is primarily a refugee flow, not an economic one,” said Kevin Appleby, senior director for international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies in New York.

 

To Learn More:

Civil Rights Groups Say U.S. May Be Paying Mexico to Arrest, Deport Asylum Seekers (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Central American Children Applying for Asylum—5,400; Accepted—0 (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Judge Orders Obama Administration to Stop Automatically Detaining Women and Children Seeking Asylum (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Vicious Cycle: Deport Criminals to Central America, Gangs Grow and Children and Others Flee the Region to the U.S. (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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