The United States will increase the number of refugees it accepts who are fleeing rampant violence in Central America's Northern Triangle region, in recognition of the dangers migrants face both in their home countries as well as during their perilous journey north.
On January 13, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the expansion of the Refugee Admissions Program for asylum seekers from the Northern Triangle, the violence-wracked region which comprises Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The US official did not specify how many more Central American migrants would be admitted to the US as refugees. Only 3,000 refugees out of 85,000 worldwide expected to reach US shores during the current fiscal year are slotted to come from Central America, according to the Washington Post.
Kerry said the expansion will "offer [Central American migrants] a safe and legal alternative to the dangerous journey many are currently tempted to begin, making them easy prey for human smugglers who have no interest but their own profits.”
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As Kerry notes, the expansion of the refugee program is intended to prevent migrants from falling victim to human smugglers, also known as "coyotes," who profit handsomely off the plight these migrants face as they make their treacherous journey to the United States. The decision comes less than one month after Congress earmarked $750 million for development, economic, and security assistance to the region in order to address the reasons migrants are fleeing in the first place -- namely, widespread poverty and gang violence.
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Still, the US should not be commended too highly before more details are announced and the results are in. It is not clear just how many new refugees the US is planning to accept, and asylum seekers will likely have to go through a lengthy approval process. The New York Times reported last November that only 90 out of over 5,000 applicants had been interviewed as part of the Central American Minors program, almost a year after it had been established.
Furthermore, authorities recently initiated an immigration crackdown that targets Central American migrants who have illegally entered the US since 2014. The administration of President Barack Obama appears intent on making the trip easier for asylum seekers fleeing gang violence in the Northern Triangle, even as it ramps up deportation efforts against migrants facing the same circumstances who have already crossed the US border.