President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday announced efforts to stem the illegal entry into the U.S. of vulnerable people from the violence-torn Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Costa Rica indicated it would help address the regional migration issue by agreeing with the U.S., the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration to offer temporary refuge to those in immediate need of protection.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will pre-screen people seeking protection and transfer them to Costa Rica for processing before resettlement in the U.S. or another country. Up to 200 people at a time will be held for up to six months in Costa Rica under the program.
The Obama administration also announced the expansion of the Central American Minors program, which provides qualified children under 21 a "safe, legal and orderly" way to reach the U.S.
The program, which is currently reviewing more than 9,500 applicants, allows a parent who legally resides in the U.S. to request refugee status for his or her children who are still in one of the three designated Central American countries.
To address those who don't need immediate refuge in Costa Rica, the U.S. is creating referral programs in the three countries. Those residents will be considered for refugee protection in the U.S. after being screened by Homeland Security officials in their home countries.
Efforts not 'sufficient'
White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Amy Pope admitted to reporters Tuesday that "current efforts to date haven't been sufficient." But she said the new and expanded programs should help "promote safe and orderly immigration and border security."
Pope said the administration did not know how many families and children might benefit from the efforts, but expected a steady increase in requests in the months ahead.
The administration's efforts are designed to reduce the tens of thousands of illegal crossings of the U.S.'s southern border each year.
Since October 2015, more than 51,000 people traveling as families and over 43,000 children traveling alone have been caught illegally crossing the Mexican border into the U.S.
The Central American Minors program was launched in December 2014. More than 600 minors have moved to the U.S. since then. Nearly 3,000 children have been approved, while more than 9,500 applications are pending.