Is This a Solution to the Migration of Unaccompanied Children?
While Congress isn’t making any headway on a new immigration reform bill or providing funding to the border patrols, President Barack Obama is considering allowing Central American citizens to apply for a limited refugee program. But is it simply a putting a bandage on a much larger problem?
Obama’s potential plan was discussed at a Friday meeting with Presidents Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala, Juan Orlando Hernandez of Honduras, and Salvador Sanchez Ceren of El Salvador, which came in response to the recent wave of unaccompanied minors immigrating into the U.S. According to numbers reported by The Wall Street Journal, officials have found about 57,000 children traveling alone across the country’s southern border.
To combat this, Obama said the U.S. is looking at a limited refugee program, based in Honduras, the country that is the source of the largest number of unaccompanied minors immigrating into the U.S. He emphasized that this program would be limited, with not every family qualifying on the basis of poverty, but would allow people to apply for refugee status without making the dangerous trip to the border.
“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” Obama said Friday. “If that were the case, it would be better for them to be able to apply in-country rather than face a very dangerous journey all the way up to Texas to make those same claims.”
Political gridlock has impeded the passage of an immigration reform bill in the House, since the Democrat-led Senate passed one over a year ago. However, it seems various Republicans stand on different sides of the issue. Similar to Obama’s proposal, Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona proposed a two-year plan allowing 5,000 additional refugees annually from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
On the other hand, some Republicans don’t want to take any action to aid Central America. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said the “acceptable spending level is zero,” according to Fox News. And in regards to Obama’s refugee proposal, an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said to The Wall Street Journal, “Our asylum and refugee programs are enormously vulnerable to abuse; the solution is to tighten them up—not loosen them.”
And others — specifically the Central American leaders — are concerned about addressing the systemic problems, not simply putting a Band-Aid on the current immigration problem. According to The New York Times, Hernández said that the U.S. demand for illegal drugs is one of the causes for the violence in Central America which prompts people to immigrate. He asked for U.S. aid in addressing “the root of the issue.”
Additionally, Wilmer Vásquez, director of a coalition of children advocacy groups, said that Obama’s proposal comes up short. “It’s important to make a deep analysis as to why children are leaving their countries,” he said to The Wall Street Journal. “Granting 2,000 or 5,000 humanitarian visas is very little for the crisis we are living.”
The United States is already providing a great deal of monetary support to Central America, including $161.5 million this year for Central America Regional Security Initiative programs to improve security and $130 million in ongoing assistance to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala for programs concerning health, education, climate change, economic growth, military cooperation, and democracy assistance, according to the White House. The U.S. is also providing an additional $9.6 million “to support and expand repatriation center capacity and to provide training to immigration officials on migrant care and to increase the capacity of these governments and non-governmental organizations to provide expanded services to returned migrants.”