WASHINGTON, United States – Some leading members of the US Congress are calling on the Obama administration to consider launching an emergency refugee programme for Central American children as one way to address a rapidly escalating humanitarian crisis at the southern border with Mexico.
Tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are showing up illegally, often without any parents or relatives, at the Texas border. Their numbers could reach 90,000 this year and grow to 150,000 next year – up from only about 6,000 in 2011, according to government estimates. After making the dangerous journey with the help of human and drug traffickers who prey upon them, this rush of children and teenagers are straining US resources, from temporary shelters to immigration courts.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, told Reuters on Thursday that establishing refugee application programs in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where domestic abuse, gang violence and poverty are rampant, is the key to defusing the growing US border crisis. McCain and other members of Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – say that a refugee program could help discourage minors from making the perilous journey north alone.
At the same time, it would give some of them a legal way to flee the three nations, which rank among the top five countries with the highest murder rates in the world. Many of the children are trying to reunite with relatives already in the United States, some of them here illegally. It also would dovetail with the urgent message President Barack Obama and his top aides are now telegraphing throughout Central America: that unaccompanied minors should not expect to be welcomed into the United States if they arrive illegally.