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On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the Refugee Admissions Program will add an undefined number of people from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The effort is meant to head off illegal migration from these countries, which has spiked in recent months. President Obama the same day authorized $70 million for resettling refugees in the United States, the largest increase ever.The Administration had already planned to admit 85,000 refugees this fiscal year – a 20 percent increase over FY 15 -- including 3,000 slots for Central Americans and 10,000 for Syrians. As the Migration Policy Institute notes, the United States is the world’s top resettlement country for refugees.
The United Nations. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will be responsible for screening candidates who claim persecution and setting up safe zones for processing applicants in nearby countries. The Administration claims the U.N. will not alter the criteria used for refugee selection although the Washington Post reported that screeners will check whether candidates are targeted by criminal gangs.
The Obama Administration said the screening process typically takes 18 to 24 months, although that is the result of the backlog of applicants, not the thoroughness of the process. And a recent Center for Immigration Studies report cites the UNHCR as using a “benefit of the doubt” screening policy with respect to applicant claims.
The Administration set up a similar program in December 2014 for minors from these countries who have parents already living legally in the United States. 6,000 applied for that program. The New York Times reports that as many as 9,000 per year could be settled under the new program.
President Obama issued a declaration authorizing a $70 million expansion of the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance “for the purpose of meeting unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs related to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.” He did not include geographical restrictions so the funds can be spent on refugees worldwide.
The funds come from a special account set up by Congress, which also appropriated $750 million in economic aid to certain Central American countries contingent upon them working to prevent citizens from illegally migrating to the U.S. That pot of money is already under scrutiny given the recent deal between Costa Rica, El Salvador and other countries to allow illegal Cuban migrants to travel to the U.S.
The U.N. released a study this week noting that international migration surged 41 percent since 2000.