Washington, DC—The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a notice effective today that it is terminating the Central American Minors Parole Program. WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) expresses deep concern that ending this program will expose vulnerable Central American children to more risks and continue to separate them from their families.
The Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program was established by DHS and the Department of State in 2014 in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to allow children from these countries who have a parent legally present in the United States to apply for U.S. refugee status. Children who did not qualify for refugee status in the United States were provided special consideration of parole in order to be reunited with their families. Terminating the automatic consideration of parole for these children and canceling the cases of children who were conditionally approved for parole but had not yet traveled to the United States, will place these children in danger given endemic levels of violence in their home countries.
“Rather than upholding the United States’ longstanding commitment to protecting vulnerable populations, this termination likely closes the door to the only legal option for these children to come to the United States,” affirmed Maureen Meyer, WOLA Senior Associate for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “Given the high levels of violence and persecution in Central America, removing special consideration for parole for these children will endanger the lives of many boys and girls who will be forced to remain in their home countries or take the dangerous journey through Mexico.”
While modest in its scope, the program had provided parole to almost 1,500 children who were fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries, and gave them a safe and legal way to enter the United States for at least two years. Children and young adults in Central America are particularly vulnerable to death threats, as local gangs often try to forcibly recruit them, extort them, or in the case of girls, pressure them into relationships with gang members. WOLA’s Central America short video series features the stories of young girls and boys who fled home because their lives were threatened. The journey through Mexico is also fraught with dangers, with migrants frequently robbed, extorted, kidnapped, and sexually assaulted.
“This program sought to give endangered kids an alternative to spending thousands of dollars to be smuggled, with much of the proceeds going to organized crime,” stated Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate for Defense Oversight. “Without this program, hundreds of kids may end up hiring smugglers who are more concerned with making a profit than in guaranteeing the safety and well-being of these children.”