Some Congressional leaders are coming out in support of creating an emergency refugee program that they believe would help deal with a massive surge of child immigrants coming to the U.S. from Central America.
Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain said that establishing refugee application programs in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador is “key” to help stem the tide, according to Reuters.
Since October, 52,000 Unaccompanied Children, or UACs, have been apprehended at the U.S. border. That is up from 6,000 in 2011. Another 39,000 parents with children have been apprehended as well. The surge has strained resources at the border and left U.S. immigration agencies and lawmakers scrambling.
South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham – who, like McCain, backs immigration reform – is considering the idea of an emergency program as well.
“We’d be able to make a more intelligent decision about what’s legitimate and you wouldn’t have the problem of people showing up, dropped off at the door,” he told Reuters. “That makes sense to me.”
According to Reuters, lawmakers who support an emergency program believe that it would discourage children from making the dangerous journey to the U.S., while also providing legal means for some youth to escape their crime-ridden countries.
“I think it’s something we need to discuss,” U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, told Reuters. “You don’t need legislation to do that.”
If he chose to, President Obama could act unilaterally to establish an emergency refugee program.
According to Reuters, the White House declined to comment on such an initiative, instead pointing to the $40 million that has been given to Guatemala to help it beef up its own border security and the $25 million given to El Salvador to help fight crime.
Lawmakers have debated over whether the Central American immigrants are coming to the U.S. because of crime and poverty in their home countries or because of the U.S.’s immigration polices, which some members of Congress, mostly Republicans, believe have grown more lax under Obama.
“I wouldn’t do that,” Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby told Reuters of a refugee plan. “The more they come, the more will come. There will be hundreds of thousands.”
Under typical refugee programs, those refugees who are able to relocate to the U.S. can work here legally. Gaining refugee status would also speed up the process of obtaining a green card as well as citizenship.
“Creating a new “refugee” program would only exacerbate the problem and inspire even more families and kids to abandon their homes for a free pass to live in America,” Jessica Vaughan, of the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Caller.
“Such a response also would make a mockery of our legitimate refugee program intended to aid those who are persecuted, and would strain its resources unnecessarily,” she said, adding that the administration should instead ramp up their efforts to reunite the immigrants with their families back home.
“Instead of looking for ways to whitewash this self-inflicted policy disaster by characterizing it as a humanitarian crisis, the lawmakers who favor mass migration should concede that their talk of amnesty and neglect of enforcement were a mistake, and work to reverse the damage.”