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U.S. Rolls Out New Refugee/Parole Program for Certain Central American Children

Maria del Carmen Ramos

Maria del Carmen Ramos

Late last week, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced an in-country refugee/parole program for minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Essentially, the new program would allow parents who are lawfully present in the United States to petition the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program on behalf of their children still in one of these Central American countries. Additionally, to the extent that a child is found ineligible for refugee admission under the new program but still determined to be at risk of harm, the child may be eligible for parole on a case by case basis if the child clears all background vetting, there is no serious derogatory information, and someone has committed to financially supporting the child.

Despite concerns raised by critics of the current administration, DOS stressed that the refugee/parole program would not be a pathway for undocumented parents to bring their children to the United States. Its primary purpose is to reunite parents lawfully residing in the United States with their vulnerable, at-risk children. Specifically, starting in December 2014, a parent lawfully present in the United States will be able to petition DOS for a refugee resettlement interview for unmarried children under 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Important to note is that in certain cases, if the second parent resides with the child in the home county and is married to the petitioning parent residing in the United States, the second parent may be included to the child’s petition and considered for refugee status, and if denied, for parole.

Once a petition has been filed, the child will be assisted through the program by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which manages the U.S. Resettlement Support Center (RSC) in Latin American. For example, IOM will invite the child to attend pre-screening interviews in preparation for a refugee interview with DHS. DNA relationship testing also will be required to confirm the biological relationship between the parent in the United States and the in-country child. If the testing confirms the DNA relationship, IOM will schedule the refugee interview with DHS. If approved, the child will be required to pass security screening and obtain medical clearance before being allowed to travel as a refugee to the United States. Once the parent signs a promissory note agreeing to reimburse the cost of travel to the United States, IOM will arrange travel for the refugee. Approved refugees will be eligible for the same support provided to all refugees resettled in the United States.

This program may be limited in scope, however, since the United States caps its allocation of the program at 4,000 slots for refugees from Latin America, including Cuba. More importantly, undocumented parents do not qualify and the program will not affect the more than 60,000 Central American children taken into custody at the southern border this year alone.

As of now, the fate of the more than 60,000 children already here still remains unknown. The current administration has proclaimed that they would be sent back to their countries. The U.S. House of Representatives also passed an emergency spending bill that would fast track the deportation process of the unaccompanied minors already here.

For more information, please contact Maria del Carmen Ramos at 813.227.2252 or mramos@slk-law.com.

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