By Vanessa Ceceña
Minors and families chose, and continue to choose, the dangerous and lengthy journey from Central American to the U.S.-Mexico border, simply because it’s a more appealing option than remaining in their communities of origin.
Many flee the proliferation of gang violence, the continued lack of economic opportunities. Others travel to reunify with family members whom they have not seen for years. Last year we witnessed the greatest surge of Central Americans arriving to our border seeking refuge. By the end of fiscal year 2015, a total of 26,685 unaccompanied minors had arrived at the Southwest U.S.-Mexico border.
The Obama Administration received much pressure from pro-immigrant rights groups to respond to the surge and to the obvious Central American refugee dilemma. On December 3, 2014, the U.S. government officially announced Central American Minors (CAM), an in-Country Refugee/Parole Processing program for Minors in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. While some Central American countries have been designated refugee countries in the past, this is the first time the U.S. has initiated an in-country refugee application process in this region.
CAM allows parents who are residing in the U.S. to initiate the refugee status process for their minor child while the child remains in the country of origin. The parent has to have one of the following immigration statuses or defenses: Legal Permanent Residents (LPR), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), Parolee, Deferred Action (including DACA), Deferred Enforced Departure or Withholding of Removal. For those who have been issued deferred action, it must have been issued for at least one year. The parent’s status or defense must be valid at the time of applying.
DNA testing is part of the process in order to confirm the relationship. This is not an uncommon practice, as it is commonly requested during family petition processes, especially when obtaining a government issued birth certificate is impossible, as well as in other cases.
For those who are denied refugee status, they will still be able to enter the U.S. by being paroled in. Again, this is not a process created simply for CAM. Cubans and Haitians are paroled into the country when they arrive to a port of entry. Point is that this isn’t something Obama pulled out of his magic hat. It’s simply being applied to another group.
Regardless, given the ongoing hostile political climate around immigration, opposition to CAM was expected. Judicial Watch provides the perfect example of hate towards immigrants that we are currently seeing in our conservative political landscape. The same rhetoric is part of the anti-CAM argument: immigrants are going to come and use taxpayer’s money to get free services (i.e. food stamps, healthcare and free education).
In addition, the program has been attacked for not only being limited to minors, but for also benefiting the parent residing with the child in the home country. There are restrictions and requirements to this. First off, the parent must prove that he/she is part of the same economic household as the minor. The parents have to be legally married at the time of the submission of the application. If these two basic requirements are met, then the parent may also be included in the application.
While I do believe that CAM will be beneficial to some families, I can’t help but think of the many families that will not be able to benefit from this program primarily because the parent does not have some type of immigration status or authorized stay.
From my experience working at an unaccompanied minors shelter, it was rare for the parents to have some form of status. If they did, they would have petitioned for their children instead of having them risk their lives making the long and dangerous journey.
The parents that flooded to the border during the height of the surge will not be able to petition for any of their children who remained in their home country. Children of undocumented parents will continue to make the long and treacherous journey, which becomes more dangerous every day as Mexican officials attempt to crack down on unauthorized migration.
So, while the Obama Administration received a pat on the back for responding to the Central American refugee crisis, the reality is that it is not a solution. It was a strategic political move to curtail the pressure from pro-immigrant rights groups. The U.S. and other countries that receive refugees need to not only provide them with refuge, but the actual problems in the home countries need to be resolved. Solve the issues that are driving people out of their country and you will have an end to the refugee crisis.
Vanessa Ceceña is a native San Diegan who grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border. She received her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California and her Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her focus has been on immigration and Mexican indigenous communities from Oaxaca. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.