The Future of Immigrant Refugee Programs
On September 30, 2014, President Barack Obama issued the “FY 2015 Refugee Admissions” memorandum which outlines the United States placing a cap on the number of refugees entering the country at 70,000. The number is the same amount allowed in 2014, but the allotments from the Latin American and Caribbean regions have decreased from 5,000 to 4,000. These regions include El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the origin countries from which many families and children have crossed the American border to make an escape from extreme violence. In his memo, President Obama directly called for the U.S. government to develop programs that would allow for eligible people from these three countries to apply for refugee status from within their own country.
Refugee status is a legal term, defined by “may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion”.
It is not uncommon for a refugee to apply for status before arriving in America and usually it is from a country other than their homeland. Having an in-country program would let a prospective refugee apply for status without having to leave the country in which they live. In the past, the United States has enacted similar programs for refugees from Haiti and Vietnam, both with the goal of preventing these individuals from embarking on a dangerous journey and facing an uncertain future.
The White House expressed hope the program would help alleviate the flow of immigrant children crossing the border. However, because of the vast scope and proposed timeline of the program, its impact is limited. The new program will be set up so that legal immigrants in the U.S. who have unmarried children under the age of 21 living in one of the three proposed countries may request an interview for their children in-country. Parents who are in the country on an undocumented status would not be able to request this interview. Additionally, the very threats that make someone eligible for refugee status could also make it harder for them to apply for an in-country interview.
Under the new proposed program, any number of refugees accepted would apply to the overall cap for that specific region, which under the terms of the memo FY 2015 puts it at 4,000 (a number which pales in comparison to the more than 66,000 children who arrived at various borders all across the southwestern United States in FY 2014).
The US State Department does not foresee enough significant numbers under the current program to affect the FY 2015 cap.
The proposal to conduct in-country refugee application processing within Central America is a vital acknowledgement of the inherent dangers facing the children of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Whether the proposed program will be enough to stop the flow of families and children from the affected countries remains to be seen, and more efforts may be necessary.
So far in 2014, the House Committees have passed immigration reform laws and approved five bills, but none of these efforts would create a clear pathway for refugees to obtain American citizenship and in fact, some of them could have a negative impact. However, the new programs President Obama wants could be beneficial in that refugees would have greater security when applying for immigration relief, rather than risking the journey to America only to be placed in detainment and experiencing the less than desirable conditions of the detainment centers.