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Obama Expands Refugee Resettlement Program to Admit More Central American Families Into US

Demonstrators at an immigrant rights protest in Walla Walla, Washington. (Photo: Richard Morgan/Flickr Creative Commons)

Demonstrators at an immigrant rights protest in Walla Walla, Washington. (Photo: Richard Morgan/Flickr Creative Commons)

The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it will expand a program to admit more refugees from Central American nations, a move meant to keep families together as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children continue to flee endemic violence, instability and economic privation in their homelands.

Acknowledging that efforts to protect Central American refugees have fallen short of their goals, the administration said it would expand an initiative allowing unaccompanied minors to enter the United States as refugees so that their entire families will also qualify, including adult siblings, parents and other relatives, including caregivers. The US will also work with the United Nations to screen applicants for refugee status in their countries of origin. Additionally, the administration has announced a protective transfer agreement with Costa Rica under which that nation has agreed to host as many as 200 of the most vulnerable migrants on a temporary basis.

Currently, the administration only allows Central American children to apply to join one or both parents who have already established legal status in the US.

“Our current efforts to date have been insufficient to address the number of people who may have legitimate refugee claims,” White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said on Tuesday. “There are insufficient pathways for those people to present their claims for adjudication.” Pope added that the new rules will help ensure “a safe and orderly processing” of refugees’ asylum applications. While it is not clear how many refugees will be eligible under the expanded program, around 9,500 people have applied under the current program for children.

Refugee advocates welcomed the news of the shift. “Violence has overwhelmed all limits,” Ángel Herrera, migrant care coordinator for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, told the New York Times. “The insecurity is tremendous. People see no other option than to emigrate.”

“We have long argued that what is happening is a refugee emergency and should be treated like one, and these modest measures at least recognize this reality,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice, said in a press statement. “The administration has relied on an enforcement-centric approach that sends vulnerable young people back to countries where they may well face death. Instead, we need to respond to this humanitarian emergency with a comprehensive refugee-centric strategy.”

Leading Republicans, however, blasted the administration for the move. “With the stroke of a pen, the Obama Administration intends to circumvent statutory law at the behest of the open-borders lobbyists and extremists within the Democratic Party,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said on Wednesday. “This will only encourage more lawlessness, exacerbate the current situation at our border, and erode public confidence in the integrity of our immigration system.”

The administration’s plan stands in stark contrast to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s pledge to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the US-Mexcian border and force Mexico to pay for it. Trump, who has been accused of xenophobia and racism forclaiming many Mexican immigrants are criminals and “rapists,” believes immigration is out of control and threatening US national security and the economy.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton favors a more inclusive approach and featured an 11-year-old Nevada girl, Karla Ortiz, and her undocumented mother asspeakers at the ongoing Democratic National Convention. However, Clinton had previously angered and disappointed many progressives by backing the Obama administration’s “deterrence” policy, which relies heavily upon detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, until pressure from rival Bernie Sanders and his supporters led to a March campaign promise that she “will not deport children.”

“I do not want to deport family members either,” said Clinton, adding that she “would give every person, but particularly children, due process and have their story told.”

Progressive critics, some of whom have labeled Obama the “Deporter-In-Chief” for having overseen more than 2 million expulsions, say both parties must do more to help Central American refugees, especially considering the multiple US roles in creating and exacerbating the refugee crisis. Successive US administrations have supported military dictatorships and trained many of their leaders and officers in democracy suppression at the notorious US Army School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The US has also created, trained, armed and funded military forces that committed genocide and other horrific crimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and elsewhere. These policies and actions created lasting instability and prompted many residents of those countries to flee north. The deportation of Central American gang members also directly fueled much of the criminal violence that plagues nations including Honduras and El Salvador today.

In Honduras, which suffers from the world’s highest homicide rate, political and criminal violence have soared in the wake of the 2009 military coup, backed by Obama and Clinton, that overthrew the democratically elected reformist government of Manuel Zelaya. Thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, human rights activists and others have been murdered under the US-backed regime.

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