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WH to Host Cent. American Leaders      07/25 06:26

   President Barack Obama is summoning Central American leaders to the White 
House to discuss the influx of young immigrants from their countries to the 
U.S., hoping to show presidential action even as Congress remains deeply split 
over proposals to stem the crisis on the border.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is summoning Central American 
leaders to the White House to discuss the influx of young immigrants from their 
countries to the U.S., hoping to show presidential action even as Congress 
remains deeply split over proposals to stem the crisis on the border.

   The meeting comes as the administration is considering creating a pilot 
program giving refugee status to young people from Honduras, White House 
officials said Thursday. The plan would involve screening youths in their home 
country to determine whether they qualify for refugee status. The program would 
be limited and would start in Honduras but could be expanded to include other 
Central American countries.

   Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, speaking Thursday in Washington, 
said he hadn't heard about the plan but expected it to come up Friday. He said 
Central American nations have sought to pursue a unified approach. "We expect 
that the solution to this problem also is equal for the three countries," he 
said.

   Besides Molina, Obama was to host Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez 
and El Salvador's President Salvador Sanchez Ceren on Friday, the day after 
they met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are considering Obama's requests 
for emergency funds and additional authority to send unaccompanied children 
back to their home countries more quickly. Those lawmakers appear unlikely to 
resolve their differences on either front before leaving Washington late next 
week for their annual August recess.

   With critics claiming Obama's own policies triggered the crisis, the 
president has been eager to demonstrate an aggressive approach to reducing the 
flow of immigrants and returning those found not to have a legitimate claim to 
stay here.

   The U.S. has mounted a communications campaign to inform Central American 
residents that they won't be allowed to stay in the U.S., and Obama sent a team 
to Texas this week to weigh the possibility of dispatching the National Guard 
to the border.

   Under the in-country screening program the White House is considering, the 
legal standard for youths to qualify for refugee status would remain the same 
as it is for those who seek the status after arriving in the U.S., officials 
said, adding that the goal is to deter children who would not ultimately 
qualify for refugee status from attempting the dangerous trek. The officials 
briefed reporters ahead of Obama's meeting on the condition they not be 
identified by name.

   More than 57,000 minors have arrived since October, mostly from Honduras, 
Guatemala and El Salvador. The trio of nations has become one of the most 
violent regions in the world in recent years, with swaths of all three 
countries under the control of drug traffickers and street gangs that rob, rape 
and extort ordinary citizens with impunity.

   In recent weeks the number of children being apprehended daily has fallen by 
roughly half, but White House officials said seasonal patterns or other factors 
unrelated to the administration's efforts may be to thank for some of the 
decline.

   Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations 
Committee, met with the Guatemalan and Honduran presidents Thursday. He said he 
was impressed by what the leaders were doing to crack down on human 
trafficking. Yet he said he also made clear the responsibility those 
governments had to follow through as the U.S. considers sending more money to 
Central America to help address the problem.

   Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency spending, but 
lawmakers were looking at cutting that number down significantly. At the same 
time, Republicans said they wouldn't agree to any money without policy changes 
to give the government more authority to turn kids around fast at the border 
and send them home.


(KA)


 
 
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