Few, if any, Guatemalan children made it to the US as part of an expanded program to reunite children with their parents in the United States, according to a report published Wednesday by the nonprofit organization Refugees International. Is.
President Joe Biden restarted the Central American Minors Program, known as CAM, in March 2021. It was launched by the Obama administration in 2014 and ended by the Trump administration in 2018.
The program originally allowed parents living in the US through parole or temporary protected status, or TPS, to apply for and request refugee status for their children and some children’s family members in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. was allowed.
But the US has never given TPS to Guatemalans; It has provided it to the people of El Salvador and Honduras after natural disasters in those countries. During the Obama administration, only 2% of applicants to the CAM program were Guatemalan.
In September 2021, the Biden administration expanded the pool of eligible applicants to include parents who have applied for asylum or U visas, typically granted to victims of crimes.
Yael Shacher, director of Americas and Europe at Refugees International, which advocates for the rights and protection of refugees, said the second step was to open the door to more Guatemalan children.
Yet a report by the nonprofit advocacy group found that few Guatemalan children have fallen under the application expansion.
In contrast, half of all unaccompanied children who crossed the Mexican border into the US last year were from Guatemala, including those trying to reunite with their parents in the US.
“We wanted to focus on the Guatemalans because they really deserve it for the first time,” said Rachel Schmitke, senior counsel for Latin America at Refugees International. “The US government is building a bit more of the infrastructure in Guatemala to process CAM cases, as well as reaching out to Guatemalan families in the US”
Data for the second phase of the program is not publicly available. Refugees International relied on information from US government officials, resettlement agencies handling applications, local non-governmental organizations, and families.
As per reports, since the launch of Phase 2, the program has received around 1,000 applications. About 25% of applicants were from Guatemalan parents; The majority were combined Hondurans and Salvadorans.
Shekhar said it is “a small number for all three nationalities – 250 applications for Guatemala in the last year and a half,” adding, “It is very, very few.”
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Reportedly, application numbers remain low due to a lack of Guatemalan parents who are eligible to apply.
In addition, the difficulty of children in Guatemala getting CAM interviews to support the claims in their applications has meant that some have been granted refugee status.
The report also found that parolees face difficulty in obtaining passports to leave the country. Under Guatemalan law, both parents must consent to a passport.
Schmidtke said, “This requirement disproportionately negatively affects children under 18 and women fleeing domestic violence situations, because many times the father is either absent from the picture or is actually the aggressor.” are.” “The passport requirement is definitely something that should be changed to make the process easier and to make the CAM program available to more people.”
In an emailed statement, a State Department spokeswoman said that as the CAM program resumes in March 2021, “the United States is striving to provide a safe, legal alternative to irregular immigration for minors from the region.” Is.”
The statement further said, “We continue to evaluate the program to make improvements that will better serve targeted beneficiaries, such as the Fall 2022 award to new NGO partners dedicated to streamlining application intake and expanding outreach efforts.” “
The report recommended that federal agencies invest more resources in the CAM program, including greater collaboration with authorities in Guatemala and Mexico, and greater outreach to Guatemalan families.
It also recommended that the federal government provide more readily available information about the program and that US Citizenship and Immigration Services have an online “Check Case Status” feature so that families can check the progress of their cases.