WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is weighing giving refugee status to young people from Honduras as part of a plan to slow the influx of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, White House officials said Thursday.
The plan would involve screening youths in Honduras, one of the world's most violent nations, to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. Similar in-country screening programs were set up in East Asia after the Vietnam War and in Haiti in the 1990s.
The officials cautioned that no final decision on the matter has been made and said the proposal is among a range of ideas the White House is considering. The officials briefed reporters ahead of President Barack Obama's meeting Friday with Central American leaders on the condition they not be identified by name.
The United Nations has been pushing the U.S. to treat children arriving at the southern border from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador as refugees displaced by armed conflict. The trio of nations has become one of the most violent regions in the world in recent years, with swathes of all three countries under the control of drug traffickers and street gangs who rob, rape and extort ordinary citizens with impunity.
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, speaking to reporters in Washington ahead of the Friday meeting at the White House, said he did not know about the plan.
"I would not find a reason to treat some in one way, and others differently," he said. "Here we have had an aligned message from the president of Honduras, of El Salvador and myself, and we expect that the solution to this problem also is equal for the three countries."
Since last fall, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in the number of migrants from these three countries arriving at the southern border, particularly children traveling without any adult guardian.
Since Oct. 1, more than 16,000 unaccompanied children from Honduras have been caught crossing the Mexican border illegally. At the same time, more than 30,300 Hondurans traveling as families have also been arrested.
The U.S. has resisted calling the situation a refugee crisis, though Obama and top officials have called it a "humanitarian crisis."
The refugee proposal was floated as Congress looked to be deadlocked on reaching any solution of its own on the border crisis with a five-week recess beginning at the end of next week.
Obama's $3.7 billion emergency spending request looked to be going nowhere amid an impasse over whether to change a 2008 anti-trafficking law to make it easier to return the Central American kids back home. Democrats reject such changes; Republicans insist on them. House Republicans were to meet on the issue Friday morning.
"I think it needs to be resolved. That's why we're continuing to talk to our members about how to resolve it," House Speaker John Boehner said. "But as I said before, the White House needs to get its act together or it's not going to get resolved."
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