The Obama Administration took a significant step in recognizing that the current violent conditions in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are bad enough to grant the people who flee to the U.S. the category of refugee, the way it is given to people coming from war-torn countries.
That is fine, but it still does not eliminate the threat of deportation looming over nearly 16,000 people who fall under the category of “mothers with children” and who are exposed to the raids being carried out by immigration authorities. It is urgent to stop a process that was designed to target dangerous felons but is being used against people who do not represent a threat of any kind.
The new idea is to have the U.S. work with the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees and allow the organization to take care of the petitions before passing them on to U.S. authorities. These would then be in charge of processing them and making the final decision on whether the individual is eligible to obtain refugee status and residence in the U.S. or not.
The stated purpose is to save these people a costly and dangerous trip to the border. The goal is to prevent the arrival of tens of thousands of people seeking refuge like in the past.
The strategy to take care of the processing in the individual’s country of origin coincides with the United States’ focus on tackling the causes of the exodus. Congress granted the three Central American nations a package of $750 million that included some 15 conditions that are very hard to meet. Ironically, it would be precisely these funds what would help them fulfill the demands of bringing down crime and improving border security, among others. It all depends on the U.S. Secretary of State certification that the conditions are being met, something Vice President Joe Biden and newly elected Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales are likely to talk about.
As with everything, it remains to be seen if the new system will help endangered Central Americans or if it will represent yet another frustration that will push them towards the U.S. border. The new plan should not alter the possibility of obtaining asylum for those who end up reaching the border. Their petitions should be analyzed based on the individual’s specific case and not on procedural issues.