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As Kids Keep Fleeing Violence, U.S. Steps Up Central American Refugee Processing

Patrick Farrell
Miami Herald
A Honduran teenager named Daniel attends a North Lauderdale church service with his mother after recently arriving in the U.S. escaping gang violence.

The U.S. faced a crisis two summers ago when some 60,000 unaccompanied kids from Central America crossed our border. Most were escaping gang violence – and many continue coming to South Florida. Now the U.S. is finally expanding efforts to process them, with a helping hand from Costa Rica.

After that summer of 2014, the U.S. announced plans to handle the refugee claims of Central American minors inside their countries – before they make their dangerous solo journeys through Mexico.

But critics say the program’s rollout has been slow at best. And the Obama Administration conceded as much in a Tuesday conference call.

“What we have seen is that our current efforts to date have been insufficient to address the number of people who may have legitimate refugee claims," said Amy Pope, Deputy Assistant to the President at the National Security Council.

Federal officials say they’ll now step up and enlarge the project. Until now a few hundred youths have arrived in the U.S. after receiving refugee status. But that number is expected to rise into the thousands this year – almost 3,000 applicants have been approved in the past nine months – especially since relatives and other caregivers may now be eligible in some cases.

Mexico will lend more help to the U.S. processing effort. And Costa Rica will host applicants for U.S. asylum who most urgently need protection from gang violence.

“What’s we’re talking about is an overarching refugee effort," said Homeland Security Department Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. "This is turning the page to a really new chapter of refugee processing.”

It will also likely be popular with Latino voters before the November presidential election.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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