WASHINGTON The White House announced its intention on Tuesday to establish refugee processing in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to try to deter unaccompanied children from resorting to crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on their own.
The announcement was made in a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that also said the admission of up to 70,000 refugees to the United States in fiscal year 2015 is justified by humanitarian concerns.
Over the summer, President Barack Obama struggled to contain a border crisis where tens of thousands of children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras showed up illegally, often without parents or relatives, at the Texas border.
Some U.S. lawmakers had recommended the step that the White House took on Tuesday, saying that establishing refugee application programs in the three Central American countries was key to defusing the border crisis.
The 70,000 would be allocated among refugees who are judged to have specific humanitarian concern. Of these, 4,000 would be from Latin America and the Caribbean, the White House said.
Of the total, 2,000 refugee slots were not allocated to a particular region. The memo authorized the State Department to accept up to a total of 2,000 people from Cuba, Eastern Europe and the Baltics, Iraq, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
A White House spokesman said the memo signals the Obama administration's intention to launch "in-country" refugee processing in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
The program would allow certain lawfully present, eligible relatives in the United States to request U.S. refugee resettlement for children still resident in one of those three countries.
"We are establishing in-country refugee processing to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that children are currently undertaking to join relatives in the United States. These programs will not be a pathway for children to join undocumented relatives in the United States," the White House official said.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton)