Amid Deportation Raids, the Obama Administration Plans to Admit More Refugees

Violence in Central America spurs an expansion of the US refugee program.

A group of young migrants from Honduras and El Salvador who crossed the US-Mexico border in Texas in 2014.Eric Gay/AP

In response to the surge of families fleeing violence in Central America, Secretary of State John Kerry announced today that the United States will expand the number of refugees it admits.

The expansion of the Refugee Admissions Program is directed primarily at migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, where battles between drug cartels are fueling instability and unrest. It will also tap into assistance from the United Nations refugee agency in setting up processing centers in several nearby countries. Similar to the European refugee processing centers that help screen and route asylum seekers fleeing from war-torn countries in the Middle East and beyond, these UN centers will help determine if the Central American migrants are eligible for refugee status in the United States.

Ironically, Kerry’s comments come just days after more than 100 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter chastising the Obama administration for a series of what they called “inhumane” immigration raids that targeted mothers and children. Immigration officials rounded up and deported 121 migrants from Central America in January.

The United States already plans to admit an additional 15,000 refugees this year, including 10,000 Syrians, bringing the total to 85,000. Kerry did not say how many more refugees would be allowed in on top of this increase, nor when the process will begin.

“We can both maintain the highest security standards and live up to our best traditions as Americans by welcoming those in need of help to our great country. That is who we are. That is what we do,” said Kerry. “We dare not turn our backs on future generations seeking the same set of opportunities. We have the ability to protect ourselves even as we remain a country that welcomes migration.”