U.S. to expand Central American refugee screening program: source

WASHINGTON The Obama administration will announce on Tuesday an expanded program for processing asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that will include screening of some migrants in Costa Rica, a senior U.S. congressional source said.

The source told Reuters the program will also include sending officials from the Department of Homeland Security to the three Central American countries to screen applicants, and an expansion of an existing program in which some Central American children with parents in the United States have been allowed into the country.

Seven months ago Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would seek to open refugee processing centers in several Central American countries to allow people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to migrate legally to the United States or other countries.

Convincing other countries to host a center has been difficult because of concerns that slow processing times would lead to a backlog of refugees with nowhere to go, according to a Department of Homeland Security source.

Since October, nearly 80,000 children and families from those three countries have been apprehended at the U.S. border with Mexico, helping fuel heated debate on the U.S. presidential campaign trail over whether to welcome migrants fleeing violence or build a wall to keep them out.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Julia Edwards; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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