Starting next month, some Central American immigrants will be allowed to petition to bring their children as refugees, as part of a new State Department program intended to help stem the tide of unaccompanied minors illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
But immigration advocates question whether the new program will help many people. It stipulates that any parent seeking refugee status for a child must be a legal resident in the U.S., and the child must be under 21 and still living in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
"It’s a good measure for those who might benefit from it," said Tessie Borden of the Central American Resource Center in Los Angeles. "But in the end, we’re not sure it’s going to make a big difference in terms of big numbers."
The migrant children will be considered for refugee status along with Columbians and Cubans. Currently, 4,000 spots are available each fiscal year.
The program is intended to be a response to the 60,000-plus Central American children who made the trip north over the last year, many of them escaping countries torn by extreme poverty and gang violence.
The goal is "to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States," the State Department said in a statement.
But critics of the Obama administration say the new program is just a way to increase immigration to the US.
"This is just an ad hoc thing made up by the administration," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "It’s using refugee law as a pretext for an immigration program."
Vice president Joe Biden made the announcement at the Inter-American Development Bank Friday with presidents of the three Central American countries present.
After DNA testing proves a relationship between the parent in the U.S. and the child in one of the three countries, the Department of Homeland Security would set up an interview with the refugee applicant. The child's second parent could also be included in the petition if he or she is living in the home country and still married to the petitioner in the U.S.