Statement of Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center
Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) welcomes the Obama administration’s announcement today of critically needed expansions to the refugee program for people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, known as Central America’s Northern Triangle.
Today’s announcement is an important step in upholding domestic and international laws governing the treatment of refugees. Blocking refugees from safety is immoral and violates the law. The announcement shows a growing acknowledgement that Central American families and children are running from real danger, including severe gender-based violence and persecution by criminal organizations and drug cartels.
But NIJC is deeply concerned that U.S. refugee policy for Central Americans will remain out of reach for too many people who need protection. The impact of the Central American Minors (CAM) Program, which allows children living in the Northern Triangle to seek refugee status if they have parents in the United States who have lawful status, will be limited as long as it is only available to relatives of people who already have immigration status. Since the inception of the CAM program, NIJC has encountered many migrant parents from the Northern Triangle eager to have their children apply, but who are barred by these restrictions. Additionally, rapid screening processes are critical to ensuring refugees can safely participate in the in-country refugee programs. NIJC clients frequently tell us that any program that requires refugees to await processing in their home countries, where they are facing persecution, puts their lives at risk.
Finally, just as the U.S. government has agreed to provide refugee screenings for individuals who remain in danger in the Northern Triangle, it must ensure a chance at protection for those who have fled to the United States. With this announcement, NIJC calls on the Department of Homeland Security to halt its raids on Central American families in the United States and provide Temporary Protected Status for individuals fleeing the Northern Triangle.
About the refugee program expansion:
The announcement expands the Central American refugee program in three ways:
- Establishes an agreement with Costa Rica that will allow the U.S. government to prescreen adult and child refugee applicants in their home countries and then transfer them to Costa Rica to complete the refugee application process
- Expands capacity for the U.S. government to conduct “in-country” refugee processing for adults, for those who are able to safely remain in their home countries until they have been approved to enter the United States as refugees
- Expands the Central American Minors Program so that children who qualify for the program’s initial eligibility requirements can be accompanied by the following people:
- Siblings 21 years or older of the qualifying child
- Biological parents of the qualifying child who remain in the home country
- Caregivers of the qualifying child, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles