Amid backlash over raids, U.S. to take more Central American refugees
Secretary of State John Kerry announced Wednesday that the U.S. will admit expand its refugee program in 2016 for Central Americans fleeing violence, the Guardian reports.
The announcement comes amid backlash from Democrats in Congress over President Obama's raids on undocumented families, particularly those fleeing drug-fuelled conflict in Central American countries. The Department of Homeland Security launched a controversial crackdown on those who entered the country in 2014 and have since been denied asylum. Over the holiday season, hundreds of such individuals were rounded up by immigration officials and processed for deportation.
In a speech on foreign policy at the National Defense University in Washington, Kerry said the refugee program expansion will "help vulnerable families and individuals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and offer them a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey that many are tempted to begin, making them at that instant easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profit."
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) January 13, 2016
However, Kerry made little mention of the Central American refugee crisis in his written remarks on the 2016 foreign policy. Syria has become a "top priorirty," he wrote, and so has "the refugee crisis that it has spawned and the violent extremism to which it has contributed."
Both in his Wednesday announcement and his foreign policy remarks, Kerry emphasized the delicate balance between refugee admission and secure screening processes. Per his remarks:
Let me be very, very clear: We can both maintain the highest security standards and live up to our best traditions as Americans by welcoming those in need of help to our great country. That is who we are. That is what we do. That is how we wrote our history. That’s how we became who we are. And we dare not turn our backs on future people, generations seeking the same set of opportunities. We have the ability to protect ourselves even as we remain a country that welcomes migration.
This will not be a direct application program. Instead, foreign aid agencies will help determine who qualifies for asylum.
For example, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will make referrals for resettlement, but the final decision will be with U.S. government, according to the Guardian. For Central American refugees, the eligibility criteria will be no different than the criteria for other refugees from other regions of the world.