Honduras says it is preparing for the return of thousands of its citizens following reports that the US is planning a mass deportation of Central American migrants who have fled violence and poverty back home.

The foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday it has received information from the US government that it is going "to return to Honduras people who have a final deportation order, after all legal procedures are concluded".

The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reported last week that President Barack Obama's administration was planning a vast operation to round up and expel migrant families.

 Risking their lives to reach the US

Those who failed to win refugee status and received deportation notices would be sent to their home countries, the reports said.

In a statement to Al Jazeera, Gillian Christensen - press secretary for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency - said: "If individuals come here illegally, do not qualify for asylum or other relief, and have final orders of removal, they will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values."

Christensen added, "As reported in the end of fiscal year statistics released on Tuesday, ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals." 

Recently, the number of Central American migrants trying to reach the United States has again increased, following a relative lull this year after a 2014 spike in which 60,000 unaccompanied children made it to the border.

The reported US move has drawn criticism. One of El Salvador's top officials for migration has called it "regrettable".

"We have been informed about the decision of senior US officials to begin deporting family units and non-accompanied minors," said Liduvina Magarin, deputy minister for Salvadorans abroad.

"It is a regrettable decision by the US government [that affects] our Salvadoran families."


Salvadorans flee danger but find more of it in Mexico


Refugee and rights groups argue that Central Americans from the gang-plagued "Northern Triangle" of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are fleeing violence and corruption.

Aracely Romero - who works for the Center for Returned Migrants that helps Hondurans arriving back home with transport and food - also expressed her concern.

"There needs to be a plan to receive them," she told the AFP news agency.

She said this year about 19,000 Hondurans were sent back, nearly half the 36,461 recorded last year.

More than one million Hondurans live in the United States, sending back $3bn in remittances that amount to nearly 20 percent of Honduras' gross domestic product.

Following the 2014 "border crisis" of arriving Central Americans, the United States approved a $750m aid package for the Northern Triangle countries to try to stabilise them and reduce the conditions prompting the migrant exodus.

 People smuggling: From Honduras to the US

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies