As those fleeing threats in some Central American countries continue to cross the U.S. southern border without documentation, the Obama administration is stepping up efforts to expand legal immigration to families and children from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica. The expansion effort is intended to assist in the relocation efforts and to stem the tide of undocumented immigration.
In another expansion, the administration is also broadening efforts of a two-year-old program that allows some children from the Central American countries to reunite with parents who already live in the United States legally, according to an Associated Press report. With the expansion, the program now allows some unmarried siblings, in-country parents and other caregivers to come into the United States with a child who is approved for the program.
Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said more than 600 children have moved to the United States since 2014 and that approval for the program has been granted to 2,884 children. Mayorkas said more than 9,500 applications are pending.
White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope said expansion of Central American refugee programs is because “current efforts to date haven’t been sufficient,” according to the AP story. With the new programs, she said, immigration to the U.S. will be safer and more orderly and will also increase border security.
While the programs are designed to counter the waves of undocumented crossings into the country, it remains unclear how quickly the expanded programs will impact the number of undocumented crossings. Although the number of undocumented crossings dropped significantly in fiscal years 2014 and 2015, a steady rise in these numbers is reported since the start of fiscal year 2016 in October. According to the AP report, more than 51,000 people traveling as families and more than 43,000 unaccompanied children have been caught crossing into the U.S. from Mexico without documentation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began pre-screening potential refugee families in January. Under the expanded programs, U.S. officials will now handle more of the in-country processing required for candidate families.