The Obama administration is considering classifying some Honduran youth as refugees in order to help alleviate what it sees as the humanitarian crisis behind a massive surge of illegal Central American immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border.
Several federal agencies are working on a proposal that would identify Honduran youth who classify as refugees, according to The New York Times, which obtained a draft of the plan.
The program would cost $47 million over the course of two years, based on the assumption that 5,000 Hondurans would apply for the status and that 1,750 would be accepted. The draft states that between 35 and 50 percent of Hondurans who apply to become refugees would be granted that status.
According to the New York Times, Honduran children would be interviewed by American immigration workers. A refugee resettlement center would also be set up in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital. International organizations would also be on hand to help.
The administration may also allow applicants up to 21 years of age to apply for refugee status. According to the draft, the administration is also considering allowing some who fall short of the requirements for refugee classification to enter the U.S. under what is known as “humanitarian parole.”
If the Honduran plan is successful, it would be implemented in El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other Central American countries of origin for the large immigration influx.
The Obama administration estimates that 90,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Central America, will be apprehended this year alone. That is a three-fold increase over last year’s totals.
As the New York Times points out, refugee classification has a legal definition, on that could create a problem for the administration, whose main talking point for the cause behind the surge is that the Central American countries have high rates of crime and poverty.
To gain refugee status, people must have fled their country based on fears of persecution for reasons such as their race or religion, not just because of high crime rates.
At least two Republicans from a border state have previously said that they would be in favor of granting more refugee visas.
Both Arizona senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, proposed increasing the visas for all three Central American countries to 5,000.
That idea will likely find little support from other Republicans who have blamed the Obama administration’s relaxed immigration policies for leading Central American immigrants to believe that they will be granted amnesty upon arrival in the U.S.
“It’s clearly a bad idea,” Center for Immigration Studies executive director Mark Krikorian told the Times. “Orders of magnitude more people will apply for refugee status if they can just do it from their home countries.”