The United States said Thursday it would process migrants in Colombia and Guatemala while toughening enforcement against people who try to enter illegally, revamping policy on an issue that has dogged President Joe Biden.
Canada and Spain have also agreed to take in some of the people who will be approved to emigrate at the processing centers, with an expectation that more people will be cleared to travel through the new system.
“We expect to be able to pretty dramatically increase the number of refugees we admit from the Western Hemisphere here through the regional processing centers,” a US official said in previewing the announcement.
She said that the United States was in touch with other countries in Latin America about opening other centers and was also looking to make it easier for approved migrants to bring in family members.
The measures were announced as the United States prepares for the May 11 lifting of emergency orders that former president Donald Trump, a staunch immigration opponent, used to seal off the border during the Covid-19 pandemic and send migrants to Mexico.
The Biden administration, which had promised a more humane approach but initially kept in place most of Trump’s border policy, said it would strictly enforce laws against unauthorized entry — a rallying cry for Republican opponents.
“Migrants who cross the US border without authorization and who fail to qualify for protection should expect to be swiftly returned with at least a five-year bar to returning,” a State Department statement said.
Another State Department official said that the new plan aimed at helping migrants “safely enter the United States lawfully rather than paying for dubious help from migrant smugglers and criminal organizations.”
The United States has witnessed a surge of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador fleeing rampant violence, poverty and crop failures worsened by climate change.
Venezuela has also seen millions of people flee since the oil-rich nation’s economy imploded under President Nicolas Maduro.