A week before President Barack Obama made his blockbuster November 20, 2014, announcement on administrative relief for immigration, the administration announced a program allowing some Central American parents to bring their children to the United States. This program was designed to reduce the number of undocumented children arriving at the United States border with Mexico. Parents who have lawful status can file an application for their children in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras to be reviewed in their home countries for refugee status.
The program is supposed to divert children away from the dangerous routes they took here last summer by offering a safe and legal way for them to come. Although the program was to get underway in December of last year, implementation began late and applications were not received until February.
The program itself seems to be under the radar. It was announced late on a Friday and was overwhelmed in the media by news of the broader legalization programs of the November 20 administrative relief. The number of community groups permitted to provide services for the parents has also limited its visibility. For most immigration programs, any lawyer or organization can file an application. For this program, only a limited number of designated non-profits can file. On Long Island, for instance, only Catholic Charities is allowed to submit the applications for in-country refugee processing.
Since the non-profits selected by the Department of Homeland Security to file the applications have limited staffs and some of the designated organizations have limited contact with the Central American community there has not been the level of outreach normally associated with new immigration programs. While the new program was designed to offer an alternative to the dangerous trip north with smugglers, it seems as though few Central American parents know it even exists.
The number of applications received by the State Department has been tiny. Although more than 60,000 child refugees arrived here last year from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, so far only 329 parents have applied for their children’s cases to be reviewed. No cases have been granted yet, which is not unusual given the newness of the program. Unfortunately, with the new migration season only a month away, the late start and lack of approvals means that the program is unlikely to have much impact on anyone’s decision to come north.
Parents with lawful status whose children are in danger in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras can get information on the new program from Catholic Charites at 631-789-5210.