United Nations officials are pushing for many of the Central Americans fleeing to the US to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict, a designation meant to increase pressure on the United States to accept tens of thousands of people currently ineligible for asylum. Officials with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees say they hope to see a regional agreement on that status later this week when officials from the US, Mexico, and Central American countries meet in Nicaragua. The group will discuss updating a 30-year-old declaration regarding the obligations nations have to aid refugees.
While such a resolution would lack any legal weight in the United States, the UN agency says it believes "the US 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." Central Americans would be among the first modern migrants considered refugees because they are fleeing violence and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs. "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," a UN spokesman says. The United States has recently seen a dramatic increase in the number of Central American migrants crossing into its territory, particularly children traveling without any adult guardian. Most of the migrants come from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, and most say they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.