More than 400 people have applied to have their children living in Central America be brought to the United States as refugees or parolees through the Obama administration’s recent Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program and there is no limit on the number of immigrants who could be approved, Breitbart News has learned.
The State Department and Department of Homeland Security announced the — until recently — relatively obscure program in November following an unprecedented surge in unaccompanied minors illegally coming to the U.S. from Central America last year.
The program began taking applications from parents seeking to bring their children living in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to the U.S. in December.
“Its important to think of this as part, just part of, an integrated effort to stop children from coming illegally though Mexico here,” Simon Henshaw, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, explained in an interview with Breitbart News. He pointed to other factors such as strengthening the U.S. border as well as collaboration with Mexico and Central America to improve economic and security conditions as part of the effort.
Through the program, the Central American children of parents who are seen as lawfully present in the U.S. — including illegal immigrants who have been granted deferred status — can come to the U.S. as either refugees or parolees.
The government has not set a limit on how many children can to come to the U.S. through the program.
“It’s how many apply,” Henshaw said. “There is no cap. That being said, the numbers have been pretty low, actually lower than we expected so that hasn’t become an issue.”
To be sure, there is a worldwide limit on how many refugees the U.S. accepts annually.
“[T]he worldwide cap is 70,000 and any refugees from this program would be included in that number,” State Department spokesman Dan Langenkamp explained in an email to Breitbart News.
“In this overall number, we have a projection of 4,000 refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean, under which these children would fall, but there is some flexibility within that projection if needs are greater than forecast. So there is no a separate category for these children,” he added.
On the other hand, there is no limit on the number of parolees allowed access to the U.S.
USCIS spokesman Christopher Bentley explained to Breitbart News that each parole is determined on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s always based on a humanitarian need,” Bentley said. “So there is no cap. Where the refugee process would have a cap on it based on the 70,000 and yearly quotas, there is no such restriction on parole. It is always a case-by-case basis.”
Refugees can be placed on a pathway to citizenship. Parolees are not and are supposed to be in the country for a finite amount of time before they must leave or have their status renewed.
As of Tuesday, 403 had applied to the CAM Program. However, none have been approved because, as Henshaw explained, the program is still in its early stages and each application must go through a screening process that includes interviews and a DNA test to ensure there is a familial relationship.
“The most advanced cases were at the DNA checking point,” he said.
There are no fees to apply, except a payment for the DNA test that is refunded if there is a match. Once the child is approved as a refugee, he or she is flown to the U.S. on a ticket paid for by a loan from the U.S. government. Parolees do not receive such travel loans, according to the State Department.
As to how often those loans are repaid, Henshaw said, “Worldwide it tends to differ from population to population and we haven’t had enough Central Americans yet to have an estimate yet on what that would be” but added that “We collect a lot of it back.”
A critic of the program, Center for Immigration Studies expert Jessica Vaughan argued in an interview with Breitbart News that the effort represents an opened-ended admission program for the families of illegal immigrants.
“The pseudo-refugees are the family members of illegal aliens already living in the United States, and the Obama administration has created for them a new, practically free, family reunification program without limits, fees or waiting times found in the legal immigration program,” she explained.
She further highlighted the costs associated, pointing to a State Department conference call National Review’s Ryan Lovelace recently listened in on and reported.
“On top of it, for admissions purposes, they will be treated as humanitarian cases, and have access to welfare benefits and social services that are traditionally reserved for refugees, and, like refugees, if they have prior deportations, felony convictions, or communicable diseases, those ineligibilities will be waived,” she added. “None of the usual rules will apply to them.”
Vaughan, who deals extensively with ICE statistics, pointed out that according to her databases, in 2012-2013 ICE deported about 2,400 individuals to the three participating countries who had criminal convictions but would still be young enough to qualify for came if their parents remained in the U.S. with the appropriate status.
Henshaw explained that the program is intended to tamp down on the number of unaccompanied minors making the dangerous journey from Central American to the U.S. illegally.
“We expect a portion of children who would make that journey that have lawfully present parents in the States that they would now go through our system instead of going through Mexico,” he said.
And while the Obama administration has touted the program as a problem solver, Republicans in Congress have been more than skeptical.
“This government-ordered amnesty chain migration will impose enormous costs on federal taxpayers and jobseekers, as those who arrive as refugees will be able to receive automatic federal benefits,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, said of the program in February. “We must be taking action to reduce the incentive to enter the country illegally.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) labeled it an abuse when the administration first announced the program.
“Rather than take the steps necessary to end the crisis at the border, the Obama Administration perpetuates it by abusing a legal tool meant to be used sparingly to bring people to the United States and instead applying it to the masses in Central America,” he said, adding that “President Obama continues to take actions that reward people for breaking our laws, which only encourage more to do the same.”
Henshaw took issue with the idea that the program would serve to encourage more illegal immigration, saying “First of all the numbers are down and secondly our program is very much focused on family reunification, that is bringing children up who already have parents in the U.S.”
Still the program is likely to remain under scrutiny especially as the country experiences what is expected to be another — albeit smaller than last year— surge of illegal immigration in the coming months.