WASHINGTON ― Central American immigrants in the U.S. already had few ways to legally bring their children over to join them. Now they have even fewer, thanks to President Donald Trump ― and about 2,700 people already conditionally approved to come to the country are now stuck.
As of Wednesday, the Trump administration will no longer consider parole for Central American minors who are screened for refugee status, shutting down a pathway former President Barack Obama created to deter children and teenagers fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala from attempting to enter the U.S. without authorization.
The Trump administration often talks about the need to deter unauthorized immigration by minors, including the dangers children and teens face when they make the journey alone. But they’re not allowing many Central American minors to come legally, either.
“It’s really this administration trapping children in situations of danger and abandoning these children,” said Lisa Frydman of Kids in Need of Defense, which advocates for immigrant and refugee minors.
The Central American Minors program allows people lawfully present in the U.S. to request permission for their children and, in some cases, grandchildren or partners, to join them. It then screens those individuals to see if they qualify to enter the country as refugees.
Up until Wednesday, if people didn’t meet the narrow definition of “refugee” and were deemed to be in danger, they could still qualify for parole, which allowed them to come to the U.S. on a legal but temporary basis. (Refugee status puts individuals on a path to citizenship.)
The majority of applicants to the Central American Minors program were recommended for parole. As of mid-July, about 70 percent of those interviewed for the program and issued a decision were recommended for parole, while 30 percent were approved as refugees and 1 percent were denied for parole or refugee status, according to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
The program has had its problems ― critics say it moves too slowly, and some parents have said they eventually turned to smugglers because they felt their children were in imminent danger. But while it’s had a negligible impact on immigration numbers, the program has also allowed more than 3,000 people, about half of them under parole, to travel to the U.S. and reunite with their families.
The refugee portion of the Central American Minors program will remain in place, according to government officials. But eliminating the possibility for parole under the program could be devastating to people already in the pipeline who will now have to start at square one and might not be able to find a way to come legally to the U.S. at all.
Salvadorans will be the most affected: Thanks to the parole policy, more than 2,400 of them have received conditional approval to enter the U.S., along with about 230 people in Honduras and about 40 in Guatemala, according to USCIS. Their conditional approval has now been rescinded and they will not able to come to the U.S. on parole.
Every parent has to ask themselves what would they do to rescue their child, and I don’t think most people put a limit on that. Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
The agency suspended the parole program after Trump ordered a review in January to ramp up immigration enforcement. The executive order instructed USCIS to exercise parole only on a case-by-case basis. An agency spokesman said Central American minors can still apply for humanitarian parole, although their program has been eliminated.
After considering the program based on Trump’s executive order, DHS decided to end it, USCIS spokesman R. Carter Langston said in a statement.
“The CAM Parole program was implemented as part of an integrated strategy to address factors contributing to increases in migration from Central America to the United States,” Langston said. “However, as indicated by the President’s Executive Order, DHS is pursuing a new strategy to secure the U.S. southern border.”
Immigrant and refugee advocates say the new situation could be a boon to smugglers. Desperate parents may turn to smugglers more often if they have no other option, said Lavinia Limón, president of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a resettlement organization.
“Every parent has to ask themselves what would they do to rescue their child, and I don’t think most people put a limit on that,” Limón said. “Yet this administration has decided that that’s not the right thing to do.”