Unnamed White House officials told reporters on July 24 that the Obama administration is considering granting refugee status to minors and young adults now in Honduras. The plan, which is still under consideration, would involve screening the youths in Honduras to determine whether they qualify to enter the United States as refugees or on emergency humanitarian grounds.
The New York Times reported that the proposed plan, which was prepared by several federal agencies, would cost up to $47 million over two years, based on 5,000 applicants, of which an estimated 1,750 people would be accepted. If the plan proved to be successful, it would be applied to Guatemala and El Salvador, as well.
The Times writer observed: “It is unclear how the administration determined those estimates, given that since Oct. 1 more than 16,500 unaccompanied children traveled to the United States from Honduras alone.”
The officials, who spoke to members of the press on the condition they not be identified by name, stressed that the plan has not been definitely decided on and is one of several ideas the White House and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services are considering. The officials briefed members of the Washington press corps in advance of President Obama’s July 25 meeting with President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, and President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of El Salvador.
According to a July 18 White House press release, “The four leaders and Vice President Biden will discuss how to reinforce our ongoing collaboration to stem the flow of undocumented migrants from Central America to Mexico and the United States.”
The current federal policy for refugees, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is outlined in the USCIS’s Refugee, Asylum, and International Operations Directorate (RAIO). The RAIO states:
• “In order to be granted either asylum or refugee status, U.S. law requires that an applicant satisfy the definition of refugee under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).”
• The INA defines a refugee as:
“any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality … who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” [Emphasis added.]
• “INA section 101(a)(42)(B) provides for in-country processing under special circumstances as specified by the president for:
“any person … who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”