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
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
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
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.