DHS Launches Controversial Program: Refugee Status for Central American Minors

Central American Minors
U.S. Border Patrol Leaked Photo

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in collaboration with the US State Department, had launched a program that would allow Central American minors (CAMs). The program is formerly referred to as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) to reach the US safely under refugee status, according to a Judicial Watch report on Wednesday. The program officially began on December 1, 2014, and could impact hundreds of thousands of families from Central America.

Judicial Watch obtained a US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) memo that explained how parents of CAMs could determine their eligibility to apply. According to the memo, “Each qualified child must be unmarried, under the age of 21, and residing in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. In certain cases, the in-country parent of the qualifying child may also qualify for access if the in-country parent is the legal spouse of the qualifying parent in the US.” The Refugee Processing Center has also published a FAQ page explaining more details about the program.

Parents already living in the US must have some kind of legal status, to include temporary or permanent residency, parolee status, or under the protection of a Deferred Action program. The program does not allow US citizens to apply, and applicants must fill out and submit the forms through a US resettlement agency. To qualify for refugee status under this program, CAMs must fall under a special humanitarian concern, and demonstrate that they have been persecuted on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a certain social class.

This is not the first program of its kind. Around the same time as the program for CAMs, DHS launched a family reunification program for individuals from Haiti. That program also allowed relatives in the US to apply for family members of all ages in Haiti to travel to the US legally.

Although the Judicial Watch report states that CAMs who are approved for travel will be provided free transportation by the US government, none of the fact sheets or DHS websites providing information about these programs indicated this was true. The report also said CAMs would be eligible to receive free education, food stamps, medical care and living expenses. The USCIS website states, “If you are approved as a refugee, you will receive a medical exam, a cultural orientation, help with your travel plans, and a loan for your travel to the United States. After you arrive, you will be eligible for medical and cash assistance.” While children in the US without legal status can attend public schools, only US citizen children of illegal immigrants are eligible for food stamps. The travel is also not free; individuals who qualify under the CAMs program must repay the costs of travel assistance.

Given that this program has been in place for four months and has not resulted in a large influx of CAMs or a rush to fill out applications, it’s likely that information about this program has not been widespread. While it may cause concern for some, the US government has had a refugee program in place for a considerable amount of time, and the eligibility criteria for applicants from countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Haiti, etc. are roughly the same as they are for CAMs.

Breitbart Texas reported extensively about the massive influx of Central American unaccompanied minors during the summer of 2014. One report, by Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby, changed the national discussion on this issue when a leaked U.S. Border Patrol document revealed images of unaccompanied minors being warehoused by DHS in South Texas.

Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.