Even though the agreement would not be legally binding on the countries that sign it, advocates say it would help create international consensus to help the migrants.
Those actions could include emergency aid and social services for internally displaced people inside Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
While U.N.-backed refugee camps house tens of thousands of people who have fled conflicts around the world, they are not a practical solution to the Central American crisis, said Dr. David James Cantor, director of the Refugee Law Initiative at the University of London, who has been pushing for the recognition of violence as one of the main factors driving Central American migration.
"Somebody from El Salvador will fit in in Guatemala. I don't think we want to get on the route of isolating them," he said. "They're not in the middle of the Syrian desert where there's nobody to receive them."
The United States has seen a dramatic increase in the number of Central American migrants crossing into its territory, particularly children traveling without any adult guardian. More than 52,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended since October. Three-fourths of them are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador and most say they are fleeing pervasive gang violence and crushing poverty.
Both Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration have called for action to reverse the trend. Among other changes, the administration wants to end a 2008 law allowing child migrants to automatically appear before an immigration judge. Instead, Border Patrol agents could decide whether to deport them or allow them an additional hearing.
Asked Monday whether the Obama administration viewed the situation at the border as a refugee crisis, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said it was "a humanitarian situation that requires urgent attention."
The administration, he said, wanted to ensure child migrants were housed in "humane conditions" while authorities worked quickly to determine whether they should be allowed to remain in the U.S. If not, he said, the Homeland Security secretary should be allowed "to exercise his discretion about repatriating."
Many Congressional Republicans attribute the increased immigration to a failure to secure the border and recent immigration policy changes that led many to believe child migrants would be allowed to stay.
Many of the migrants, in fact, stay for years as their cases wend through overloaded migration courts. Those who say they are fleeing criminal violence generally are not eligible for political asylum, which is reserved for groups persecuted for their beliefs or identities. U.N. officials say there is no way of forcing the U.S. and Mexico to accept Central Americans as refugees, but a broad-based change in terminology could bring pressure on the two countries to do more.
"Unaccompanied children and families who fear for their lives and freedoms must not be forcibly returned without access to proper asylum procedures," UNHCR official Leslie Velez said in testimony submitted to the House Judiciary Committee late last month.
Weissenstein reported from Mexico City. Marcos Aleman contributed from San Salvador. Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.
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