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UN pushes for migrants to be called refugees


SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- United Nations officials are pushing for many of the Central Americans fleeing to the U.S. to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict, a designation meant to increase pressure on the United States to accept tens of thousands of people currently ineligible for asylum.

Officials with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see a regional agreement on that status Thursday when migration and interior department representatives from the U.S., Mexico, and Central America meet in Nicaragua. The group will discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees.

While such a resolution would lack any legal weight in the United States, the agency said it believes "the U.S. and Mexico should recognize that this is a refugee situation, which implies that they shouldn't be automatically sent to their home countries but rather receive international protection."

Most of the people widely considered to be refugees by the international community are fleeing more traditional political or ethnic conflicts like those in Syria or the Sudan. Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs.

"They are leaving for some reason. Let's not send them back in a mechanical way, but rather evaluate the reasons they left their country," Fernando Protti, regional representative for the U.N. refugee agency, told The Associated Press.

The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Central American migrants crossing into its territory, particularly children traveling without any adult guardian. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October. Three-fourths of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and most say they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.

Both Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration have called for action to reverse the trend. Among other changes, the administration wants to end a 2008 law allowing child migrants to automatically appear before an immigration judge. Instead, Border Patrol agents could decide whether to deport them or allow them an additional hearing.

Asked Monday whether the Obama administration viewed the situation at the border as a refugee crisis, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was "a humanitarian situation that requires urgent attention."

The administration, he said, wanted to ensure child migrants were housed in "humane conditions" while authorities worked quickly to determine whether they should be allowed to remain in the U.S. If not, he said, the Homeland Security secretary should be allowed "to exercise his discretion about repatriating."

Many Congressional Republicans attribute the increased immigration to a failure to secure the border and recent immigration policy changes that led many to believe child migrants would be allowed to stay.

Many of the migrants, in fact, stay for years as their cases wend through overloaded migration courts. Those who say they are fleeing criminal violence generally are not eligible for political asylum, which is reserved for groups persecuted for their beliefs or identities. U.N. officials say there is no way of forcing the U.S. and Mexico to accept Central Americans as refugees, but a broad-based change in terminology could bring pressure on the two countries to do more.

"Unaccompanied children and families who fear for their lives and freedoms must not be forcibly returned without access to proper asylum procedures," UNHCR official Leslie Velez said in testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee late last month.

Immigration experts in the U.S. and Central America say the flow of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador is likely to rise as the two countries experience gang-related violence. Honduras, a primary transit point for U.S.-bound cocaine, has the world's highest homicide rate for a nation that is not at war. In El Salvador, the end of a truce between street gangs has led to a steep rise in homicides this year.

Violence by criminal organizations spread in recent decades after members of California street gangs were deported to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where they overwhelmed weak and corrupt police forces and seized control of large sections of the countries.

Salvadorans heading north through Mexico who were interviewed by The Associated Press last month said there also was fear of the "Sombra Negra," or "Black Shadow" - groups of masked men in civilian clothes who are believed responsible for extrajudicial killings of teens in gang-controlled neighborhoods. The Salvadoran government denies any involvement in death squads, but says it is investigating the reports.

In El Salvador, at least 135,000 people, or 2.1 percent of the population, have been forced to leave their homes, the vast majority due to gang extortion and violence, according to U.N. figures. That's more than twice the percentage displaced by Colombia's brutal civil war, the U.N. says.

Hondurans have been terrorized by a recent wave of attacks against churches, schools and buses.

During a recent visit to the U.S., Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said migrants from his country were "displaced by war" and called on the United States to acknowledge that.

Join the discussion

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Mary July 08 2014 at 7:14 AM

The UN then should pay for every illegal immigrant coming into our country. The American tax payer is already at the breaking point. Our country is falling apart by the seams, yet we are supposed to cough up the dough to house, feed and give free healthcare to these people. Do not get me wrong, I feel bad for these children, but there are American children in desperate need of help too.

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8 replies
seja0553 July 08 2014 at 6:57 AM

But people MUST remember that the USA is not a "dumping ground". What other country accepts anyone no questions asked?

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8 replies
Pammy Annie July 08 2014 at 8:55 AM

Have you heard of the Cloward-Piven Stratagey? The best way to destroy the system is to overwhelm it. That seems to be exactly what Obama's policies are doing.

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6 replies
fazev764 July 08 2014 at 7:18 AM

Enough us enough! Then let the UN take them to there individual country!

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5 replies
Ray July 08 2014 at 9:04 AM

These are not refugees. Refugees flee to neighboring countries to avoid being caught between warring factions. They move to neighboring countries with the intention of going back home once the fighting stops. These so called refugees have traveled thousands of miles to the United States to avoid conflict? No, these are not refugees it’s a mass migration that has no intentions of going back home once or if the fighting ever stops.

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frank July 08 2014 at 9:16 AM

Good, then let the UN give them asylum in Europe.

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5 replies
raptureus210 July 08 2014 at 8:06 AM

Ok people, let someone do the math on the cost of keeping and accepting these kids. Make it clear how it will affect each state and each person who if for it. After they do the math and make the annoucement, let them vote and do what ever they want. By the way, make it clear that those who vote to allow them to stay, let them be the only ones affected in the cost of keeping them. When this is done and those who want to keep them here accepts the cost, may it be unto them..ONLY. Start with those in leadership. Enough is enough!

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8 replies
montgomerybikerrichards July 08 2014 at 12:30 PM

Funny, I don't see any of these liberal sign carrying "do gooders" running to the boarders to take three or four of these illegals home with them to feed, house, clothe and medicate. When these illegals get to our boarders it's simple, just herd them back across. Let Mexico take care of them cuz somehow they came all the way that country with NO problems. Obama has a plan and that's to wipe out America as we know it. So sad we fell and are falling for this.... :(

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5 replies
bigfile4 July 08 2014 at 7:29 AM

The UN. Anti-US, Anti-Israel, pro Soviet Bloc (when it existed), behaving like spoiled teenagers towards us while we send aid to most of them. Anyone see a problem here with whatever opinions they have about us?

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3 replies
xraybrain July 08 2014 at 7:09 AM

let them all settle in washington D.C

Flag Reply +23 rate up
4 replies
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