DHS Chief: Obama Administration Working With UN to Make it Easier For Central Americans to Gain Refugee Status in the U.S.

By Penny Starr | February 15, 2016 | 5:22 PM EST

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Homeland Security Secretary (DHS) Jeh Johnson said last week that the Obama administration is trying to make it easier for “individuals” from Central America to gain refugee status in the United States in response to the ongoing surge of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) and families entering the country illegally in recent years.

“We are preparing to offer vulnerable individuals fleeing the violence in Central America a safe and legal alternate path to a better life,” Johnson said in his State of Homeland Security speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“We are expanding our Refugee Admissions Program to help vulnerable men, women and children in Central America who qualify as refugees,” Johnson said. “We are partnering with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and non-governmental organizations in the region to do this as soon as possible.

“This approach builds on our recently established Central American Minors program, which is now providing an in-country refugee processing option for certain children with lawfully present parents in the United States,” Johnson said.

The UN praised the program when it was announced in January and issued a press release that said although the U.S. should be able to control its border, “the best interests of the child” should be considered.

“UNHCR recognizes that it is the prerogative of States to manage the security of their borders,” a press release issued in January states. “However, the return of persons deemed not to be in need of international protection should take place only after their claims have been considered through due process.

“Moreover, any such returns must be carried out in a manner that is orderly, safe and respectful of the dignity of the individuals and families concerned,” the press release states. “In particular, returns of unaccompanied or separated children must be based on a determination of what is in the best interests of the child.”

As CNSNews.com reported earlier, according to DHS’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the number of Unaccompanied Alien Children (ages 0-17) entering the United States is up 102 percent in fiscal year 2016 (Oct. 1, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016) compared to the same period in fiscal year 2015 – 10,105 and 20,455 respectively.

The number of Family Units (family unit represents the number of individuals -- either a child under 18 years old, parent or legal guardian -- apprehended with a family member by CBP) increased 171 percent in fiscal year 2016 compared to the same period in fiscal year 2015 – 9,090 to 24,616 respectively.