UN Pushes to Rename Central American Immigrants as 'Refugees'

By Julissa Catalan

Officials with the United Nations are seeking to have immigrants from Central America who are fleeing to the U.S. be classified as refugees.

Currently, the thousands of undocumented Central Americans who have recently flooded the U.S. border are ineligible for asylum. In order to stay, these immigrants would need to prove they qualify for asylum—in other words, show evidence that they fled their countries because of fear, abandonment, abuse or neglect. Meeting the requirements could lead to special immigrant status, or if proven to be the victims of crime or trafficking, they may even be eligible for a visa.

This should not be hard to prove since the three countries most of the immigrants are fleeing from are also three of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world—Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, while El Salvador and Guatemala are in the top 10.

Honduras is also a primary transit stop for cocaine transport with a U.S. destination point.

One theory is that violence in Central America escalated right around the time that there was a surge of California-based gang members deported back to their countries, thus influencing the already corrupt police system.

In El Salvador specifically, the fear seems to be of the “Sombra Negra” (Black Shadow), a gang of masked men who are killing teens in gang-dominated neighborhoods. According to the U.N., 2.1 percent of the Salvadorian population—135,000 people—have been forced out of their homes due to gang extortion.

“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, UNHCR, told The Associated Press.

Representatives from Central America, Mexico and the U.S. were expected to meet in Nicaragua this week to discuss the declaration regarding obligations that nations have to aid refugees.

Though a resolution will not have any legal impact, the U.N. believes that “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.”

Refugees most commonly escape from their countries for political asylum—like the Sudan or Syria, for example.

If granted refugee status, Central Americans would be among the first modern immigrants to be considered refugees based on fear of criminal gang violence.

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