Editor’s Note: Will this program solve the immigration crisis? Not exactly sure. Going to the countries beforehand to screen the kids for refugee status seems like a good idea, but what qualifies the child to be a refugee?
The Obama administration is considering creating a pilot program giving refugee status to young people from Honduras as part of a plan to slow the influx of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials said Thursday.
The plan would involve screening youths in their home country to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. The program would be limited in scope and would start in Honduras, one of the world’s most violent nations, but if successful could be expanded to include other Central American countries.
No final decision on the matter has been made and said the proposal is among a range of ideas the White House is considering, officials cautioned. Obama is expected to discuss the idea Friday during a meeting with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
Similar in-country screening programs were set up in East Asia after the Vietnam War and in Haiti in the 1990s.
Under the proposal, the legal standard to qualify for refugee status would remain the same as it is for those who seek the status after arriving in the U.S., officials said, adding that the goal is to deter children who would not ultimately qualify for refugee status from attempting the dangerous trek to the U.S. The officials briefed reporters ahead of Obama’s meeting on the condition they not be identified by name.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, speaking Thursday in Washington, said he hadn’t heard about the plan but expected it to come up Friday. He said the three Central American nations have sought to pursue a unified approach. ‘We expect that the solution to this problem also is equal for the three countries,’ he said.
The United Nations has been pushing the U.S. to treat children arriving at the southern border from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as refugees displaced by armed conflict. The trio of nations has become one of the most violent regions in the world in recent years, with swathes of all three countries under the control of drug traffickers and street gangs who rob, rape and extort ordinary citizens with impunity.
Since last fall, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of migrants from these three countries arriving at the southern border, particularly children traveling without any adult guardian.
Since October 1, more than 16,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally. At the same time, more than 30,300 Hondurans traveling as families have also been arrested.
The U.S. has resisted calling the situation a refugee crisis, though Obama and top officials have called it a ‘humanitarian crisis.’
The refugee proposal was floated as Congress looked to be deadlocked on reaching any solution of its own on the border crisis with a five-week recess beginning at the end of next week.