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In Country Refugee Program for Central American Children Expected to Yield Positive but Limited Results

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Families and unaccompanied children (“UAC”) from Central America have been migrating to the US for decades. But since 2011 these numbers have increased exponentially and reached record numbers in the summer of 2014.  Over the 2014 fiscal year, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol apprehended more than 68,000 UACs.  Although the causes for this migration are complex, there is wide consensus that most migrants are driven to flee El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras because of pervasive violence and deepening poverty.  Two UNHCR studies found that approximately half of the children fleeing these three countries–also known as the Northern Triangle Central America–showed a need for international protection.

The Obama administration has responded aggressively to this situation by bolstering regional collaboration programs and measures with the governments of Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries.  One component of the government’s response to the UAC “surge” has been the creation of an in-country refugee processing program for minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras:  the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program (“CAM”).  Under CAM, lawful US residents who are the parents of Central American minors are able to bring their children to the US through the asylum system, so long as they are found to be in need of international protection.  To qualify for the CAM program, applicants must be under the age of 21, unmarried, residents of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, the child of a qualifying parent who is lawfully present in the US, and meeting the refugee definition or eligible for humanitarian parole.

The full potential impact of the program still remains unknown because the amount of applicants and beneficiaries will depend on many factors, such as the number lawful US residents who are eligible to petition for their children, and the number of such children who are deserving of refugee protection.  However, regardless of the number of potential applicants, the current refugee resettlement allocation for the region is capped at 4,000.  As of August 2015, a total of 3,344 applications are in the pipeline.

The CAM program has been well received by most NGOs and field experts as a timely effort in alleviating the flows of UACs from Central America, who expose themselves to an illegal, expensive, and dangerous journey through Mexico into the US.  But the program’s scope is nonetheless limited, and thus is not expected to have a significant impact on this current issue on its own.  The CAM program is without a doubt a blessing for the hundreds of minors whose lives are in clear danger in the Northern Triangle and are eligible to become beneficiaries of their lawfully present parents.  But its inherent limitations make it only a small piece in the universe of government actions addressing this humanitarian situation.

See the USCIS Website for more info: http://www.uscis.gov/CAM

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