US & Canada

US turning to UN over flow of Central American migrants

Boy behind a caged barrier in a detention vehicle Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Tens of thousands of children fleeing violence have been apprehended by immigration officers

The US is looking to the United Nations for help in dealing with thousands of migrants fleeing to the US to escape violence in Central America.

The hope is that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will set up processing centres for people to apply for resettlement in the region.

The centres would be located in several Central American countries.

Over 68,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended by US immigration authorities in 2014.

Violence and endemic poverty in several Central American countries have been driving migrants north to the US.

Image copyright Getty Images

Refugees cannot make applications for relocation while in their home country, so they must travel to neighbouring countries to apply for relocation to a third country.

The hope is the processing centres would provide at least temporary safety while asylum claims were processed, and would mean people being relocated to other countries other than the US.

"We are hopeful that this process can be an effective tool for assessing individuals' humanitarian relief claims and avoid a very dangerous journey to the United States," said a senior administration official.

Image copyright Getty Images

In recent days, the White House has been working behind the scenes to tamp down rebukes from members of the president's own party over deportation raids that took place over the holidays.

The raids saw over 120 immigrants placed in line for deportation over New Year's weekend.

Just hours before Mr Obama's final State of the Union address on Tuesday, more than 140 House Democrats signed a letter urging the administration to halt the raids.

The official, speaking to the BBC, said the UN plan was not a reaction to this and had been in the works "for months".

When asked if the raids would be suspended, the official said: "The administration's priorities for removal have not changed since 2014. The actions that occurred two weekends ago are consistent with those priorities we established in 2014."

Image copyright Getty Images

Each year, the US Congress establishes a cap for the number of refugees it would like to see resettled in the US each year. The current cap sits at 85,000 people from around the globe.

By comparison, the crisis that peaked during the summer of 2014 saw over 68,000 unaccompanied children apprehended by US immigration authorities on the southern border over fiscal year 2014.

Mr Biden has been a proponent of development projects for Central America, including asking Congress for $1bn for development projects in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Congress ultimately approved $750m as part of the massive budget passed in December.

While less than what the Obama administration had asked for, the official said the funding was "substantial and that's going to make a significant difference here".