BY RAFAEL BERNAL - 04/19/19 12:30 PM EDT
Three Democratic representatives from Texas's southernmost districts proposed Friday a measure to expand refugee processing for Central American migrants who file claims from within their home countries.
The bill introduced by Texas Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar, Filemon Vela and Vicente Gonzalez would direct U.S. authorities to expand their capacity to process Central American refugee claims at a shelter in Guatemala.
“This proposal aims to provide a safe and orderly process for assessing refugee claims while ensuring humanitarian protection for individuals fleeing violence,” said Vela in a statement.
“By allowing claims to be effectively processed within an individual’s country of origin, less people will be forced to make the dangerous journey to the border to present their claims," he added.
The bill picks up on a request, out of several, from a report released this week by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on policy steps to address the increased flow of Central American migration, particularly from the Northern Triangle countries Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
The report issues 13 recommendations, ranging from administration action to expanding asylum processing on the border to congressional action to reform asylum laws and regulatory and international measures to streamline the asylum claims process.
The bill presented by Cuellar, Vela and Gonzalez would tackle the final recommendation in the DHS report.
"In cooperation with Guatemala, establish a secure shelter to process asylum claimants from
Central America in Guatemala, proximate to the Guatemala-Mexican border," reads the report.
Families and unaccompanied minors from Northern Triangle countries form the bulk of migrants trying to enter the United States, replacing single adults, who dominated regional migration in the past.
Most families apprehended entering the United States in 2019 sought to make asylum claims — a legal right of any foreign national on U.S. soil, forcing authorities to process tens of thousands of claims per month at border stations.
Through the refugee process, claims can be made by prospective migrants before they leave their countries of origin.
But the refugee process can take time and force people to stay in perilous circumstances while their claims are processed.
Gonzalez said expanding refugee processing in Central America should be just one part of a larger policy to improve conditions in the Northern Triangle.
“Congressman Vela, Cuellar and I agree that we must do more in the Northern Triangle to address the push factors of mass migration and provide relief to our communities,” Gonzalez said.
"This is just one part of an overall solution that requires coordination, innovation, common sense, and a sustained investment of time, energy and resources,” he added.
And Cuellar said improved in-country processing could lessen the pressure on U.S. border authorities and border cities.
"It will also diminish the backlog of cases pending in immigration courts by reducing the number of new cases and deter fraudulent asylum claims that prevent the timely protection for legitimate refugees fleeing dire and dangerous circumstances," said Cuellar. "Border communities like my hometown of Laredo are feeling the burden of housing migrants that come to our country to claim asylum."