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US mulling refugee status for Honduran children as Obama meets with C. American leaders

Published time: July 25, 2014 16:48
Edited time: July 25, 2014 17:54
Honduran children have meals at the Todo por ellos (All for them) immigrant shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, in southern Mexico. (Reuters /  Jorge Lopez)

Honduran children have meals at the Todo por ellos (All for them) immigrant shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, in southern Mexico. (Reuters / Jorge Lopez)

The Obama administration is considering a plan that would grant refugee status in the United States to Honduran children and young adults without having to travel the dangerous land journey through Mexico.

The proposal, if approved, would call for the screening of thousands of Honduran youth to see whether they qualify as a refugee or if they could enter the US on emergency humanitarian conditions.

The plan would be akin to previous refugee efforts during humanitarian crises in the likes of Haiti or Vietnam, the New York Times reported.

Critics call the proposal an attempt to redefine the legal definition of a refugee, while likely increasing the northern flow of Central American migrants over the US-Mexico border. Administration officials said they think they could push the effort through via an executive order and without congressional approval if it does not increase the total number of refugees coming into the US.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Friday at the White House with the presidents of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to discuss stemming the number of migrants coming from their nations, officials said.

During the meeting with Presidents Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador, Obama will reportedly address the causes of migration out of the Central American nations. Aides to Obama said the US president will call for the trio to discourage their citizens from making the dangerous journey, emphasizing that most people will not be allowed to stay in the US. Obama will also ask them to do more to push against smugglers who transport children to the US-Mexico border.

President of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina (L) and President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez wait to speak during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski)

Yet those leaders have said confusing US policy is partly to blame for the migratory boom from the south. President Hernandez said as much on Thursday in an interview with Fox News.

"Among other things, there's a lack of clarity in the migratory policy of the United States," the Honduran president said.

"The language is ambiguous. That's why the coyotes, the human smugglers take advantage of this situation," he added.

Hernandez was likely referring to a program - Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals - that began in 2012. The action allowed for prosecutorial discretion for some children that make the journey. Some say the effort signals a promise of amnesty for youths that can make it to the US.

Hernandez added that this confusion has fueled misinformation campaigns by smugglers aimed at parents of potential children migrants.

Meanwhile, the Texas National Guard may acquire the power to make arrests following the deployment of 1,000 troops to the state’s border as part of Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to address new undocumented immigrants in the state.

The Texas Army National Guard (Photo from www.txarng.com)

Since the federal government did not order the deployment, the law grants Gov. Perry the right to allow Guard members to make arrests or apprehend migrants.

"That's the biggest distinction here. This is the governor taking unilateral action. Not having that oversight and supervision and direction as part of a plan from the federal authorities, I think it is reckless and could lead to significant safety issues,” Jayson Ahern, a former Customs and Border Protection acting commissioner, told the New York Times. Ahern helped coordinate a federal effort to deploy National Guard troops to border states in 2006.

Human rights advocates are concerned that the Guard troops do not have sufficient training for such authority, which could lead to civil rights violations or violent conflict with immigrants.

"It's going to complicate the scenario of civil and human rights at the border," Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, told the Times.

"Border Patrol agents have to go through a number of certifications in academy and post-academy training on immigration law, on civil rights law. Now you're talking about putting in soldiers doing that kind of work. Legally, it's going to be a disaster if they start enforcing criminal, civil or immigration laws."