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Washington (AFP) — The United States downplayed hopes of Washington launching a massive anti-drugs program in Central America to help deter emigration.

At least 57,000 unaccompanied children, most from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, have entered the United States illegally since October, triggering a migration crisis that has sent U.S. border and immigration authorities into a frenzy.

Regional leaders who met with U.S. President Barack Obama recently floated the idea of the United States bankrolling a massive military aid program that would be aimed at crushing the illegal drug trade; it is one of the main factors affecting these countries, along with poverty and other gang violence often linked to drugs.

The United States has just such a program for Bogota, its closest ally in Latin America; Washington already has spent more than $8 billion on “Plan Colombia,” which targets insurgencies and drug trafficking.

But a broader strategy to address the situation is still being pieced together.

Vice President Joe Biden, asked on Wednesday if a Colombia-style plan might be repeated in Central American nations, said “Why don’t we have a Plan Colombia for Central America?

“Because Central American governments aren’t even close to being prepared to make some of the kind of decisions that the Colombians made, because they’re hard.”

Biden suggested the countries might not be willing to meet conditions Washington would put on such a high level of cooperation.

“They’re really hard decisions to make at home, domestically very difficult,” he said. “But the president and I are prepared. We are prepared. And we think there’s a lot more we can do to deal with the root causes of this problem.”

The U.S. vice president told a group of academics and immigration lawyers that many more attorneys would be needed with very specific skills.

“We need trained lawyers to determine whether or not these kids meet the criteria for refugee status and/or whether or not they are in such jeopardy, … that they’re going to be sent to something that will (cause) their physical demise,” Biden said.

Obama has cautioned there must be no false hopes that unaccompanied children will be allowed to stay in the United States.

AFP Photo/Jewel Samad

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