Coming on the heels of news of an expected announcement by President Obama of an immigration executive action, possibly by this Friday, November 21, the White House boldly pushed the agenda even further late last week by announcing a new program for minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Scheduled to launch in December, this in-country refugee/parole program will allow parents here in the United States to request their unmarried children under the age of 21 to be interviewed for possible refugee status. Some interesting points about this new program:
· The parents have to be lawfully present in the United States.
· The minors under consideration cannot already be here, such as those who arrived recently during the influx of Central American minors flooding the border
· The program, thus far, is limited to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
· Under certain circumstances, the second parent, if lawfully married to the spouse legally here in the US, may be considered part of the child's application and granted the same status as the child
· If the child is found not to warrant refugee status, the child may still be considered for parole.
Difference between Refugee Status and Parole
If a child is admitted as a refugee, the child will be allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely as long as he/she continues to meet the definition of refugee. A refugee is someone who has fled or is fleeing his/her native country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. One of the benefits of refugee status, like asylum status, is that after one year in the US with refugee status, the individual may apply for permanent residence, which would allow him/her to stay in the US indefinitely. Additionally, refugees are authorized to work in the US.
On the other hand, children who are paroled into the US do not meet the definition of refugee but nevertheless are people who despite their inadmissibility are allowed to enter the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or for a significant public benefit. Parolees are not legally "admitted" like people who come here on immigrant visas but they are allowed to be here temporarily with permission of the US government. Under this program, parolees must apply for work authorization (vs. refugees, who are automatically authorized to work) and may only stay for an initial period of two years, subject to a request for renewal.
Will this create a "Border Surge"?
Probably not. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has gone on record claiming this program is a "government-sanctioned border surge." Such a statement only serves to amplify xenophobia without any basis. First off, any person admitted under the program is counted against 4000 number cap allotted for Latin America under the US Refugee Admissions Program. To qualify for refugee status is extremely difficult. There is a high standard of proof, and officers are obviously trained to identify genuine cases of persecution from frivolous ones. Even a grant of parole is exceedingly hard to get these days, and only reserved for those true situations where, for example, the person is in great danger. If anything, the program creates an orderly procedure where children are allowed to apply and have their cases heard, rather than just risking life and limb to come here only to be detained in deplorable deportation camps like Artesia. This seems like a good program that recognizes the reality of unaccompanied minors desperately seeking refugee/asylum status in the US. It attempts to balance our country's humanitarian impulse with the need to obviously secure our borders and discourage illegal immigration. We eagerly await the details of Obama's bigger Executive Action....
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