The White House plans to create a structure for processing children fleeing gang violence in Central America at U.S. State Department facilities in Honduras. This would seem to be a solution to the increasing number of children arriving at the southern border. It is unclear how the processing will work, but it seems the children will be examined in Honduras to see if they can be admitted as refugees.
On the one hand, this is a welcome development, on the other, it does not really address the underlying problem.
Processing refugees before they get to the United States is a great humanitarian boon, one which is almost completely unavailable to persons fearing persecution in Latin America. In most countries in Latin America there is no effective way to apply for refugee status in the person’s own country. There are also legal disabilities on applying for refugee status for Latin America, one of which is the annual “ceiling” setting the maximum number of refugee slots that can be given out. In 2012, for example, of 76,000 refugee slots available worldwide, only 5,500 were allocated to Latin America. Of those, 40 percent went to Cubans.
More so, not every available refugee slot gets awarded. In 2012, 58,179 refugees were admitted to the United States which represented a 3.2 percent increase from 56,384 in 2011.
To give a sense of who ultimately received refugee protection, here were the top ten countries:
- Bhutan 15,070
- Burma 14,160
- Iraq 12,163
- Somalia 4,911
- Cuba 1,948
- D.R. Congo 1,863
- Iran 1,758
- Eritrea 1,346
- Sudan 1,077
- Ethiopia 620
None of the top countries were from Latin America, except for Cuba. Cubans have always enjoyed preferential treatment in both the refugee and asylum processes.
Although Central American children may soon be able to apply for refugee status in Honduras to come to the United States, most are unlikely to find their applications granted. In the past, fears of gang violence have not been enough to form the basis for a successful refugee application. Unless that changes, the children will apply, wait months or years for a decision, and then be denied. Soon thereafter, the influx may begin again.