After meeting with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador on Friday, President Barack Obama said Hondurans who want to flee poverty or bad neighborhoods will not qualify for asylum under a pilot program the White House is considering.
That program, if implemented, would allow Hondurans to apply for asylum in their country without having to trek to the United States.
“As I explained to my fellow presidents, under U.S. law, we admit a certain number of refugees from all around the world based on some fairly narrow criteria,” Obama said, according to pool reports. “Typically refugee status is not granted just on economic need or because a family lives in a bad neighborhood or poverty. It’s typically defined fairly narrowly.”
Obama said some of the stories about potentially allowing Hondurans to apply for asylum at a satellite facility in Honduras were “a little over cranked.”
As the New York Times noted on Thursday, the asylum program for Hondurans, if approved, “would be the first American refugee effort in a nation reachable by land to the United States.” Under U.S. law, only those who fear “persecution by reason of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group” can qualify as refugees.
Obama reportedly said political activists who are being persecuted could be granted asylum.
“There may be some narrow circumstances in which there is humanitarian or refugee status that a family might be eligible for,” he continued. “If that were the case it would be better for them to apply in-country rather than take a very dangerous journey up to Texas to make those same claims.”
Obama said he wanted to find solutions with the Central American presidents “that prevent smugglers from making money on families that feel desperate.” But he added that the asylum program, which reportedly could be expanded to include people from Guatemala and El Salvador, “would not necessarily accommodate a large number of additional migrants.”
The Times reported that up to 50% of applicants from Honduras could be considered for relief under the proposed pilot program. According to government figures, 18,500 of the nearly 60,000 illegal immigrant juveniles who have been apprehended at the border since October of last year have been from Honduras. That number is expected to increase next year as officials expect at least 150,000 more illegal immigrant juveniles to be apprehended.