By Jen Riddle
The Department of State (DOS) recently launched its in-country refugee and parole program for children residing in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Under this program, parents who are lawfully present in the United States (LPRs, parolees, recipients of TPS, DACA, deferred action, Deferred Enforced Departure, or withholding of removal) may request a refugee status interview for their children who are currently residing in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Eligible children will be admitted to the country through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Minors who are not found to be eligible for refugee admission but who are still at risk of harm may be paroled into the United States on a case-by-case basis. According to DOS, the program is intended “to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.”
Eligible parents interested in applying for a child must submit Form DS-7699. This form can be submitted only through a resettlement agency funded by the DOS Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. While other agencies cannot assist clients in filing the form, they can inform clients about program, help identify those who appear to meet the eligibility criteria, and refer them to the closest designated resettlement agency by consulting the national directory.
Under the program, parents over age 18 may file applications for unmarried children under the age of 21, including biological, stepchildren, or legally adopted children, so long as they are nationals of and currently residing in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. Requests may also include: 1) the second parent so long as he or she is residing with the child abroad and married to the petitioning parent in the United States; and 2) the child’s unmarried children. After Form DS-7699 is filed, the child will be invited by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to a pre-screening interview, and the petitioning parent will be contacted about submitting DNA evidence to confirm the biological relationship. Next, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will interview the child to determine whether he or she is eligible for refugee status and admissible to the United States. If so, upon completing the required security checks and obtaining medical clearance, approved refugees will travel to the United States where they will be eligible for the same support provided to all resettled refugees, including assistance from a designated resettlement agency.
Children (and any eligible parents) who are found not to qualify as refugees may be paroled on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit. Parole is temporary and does not constitute a permanent legal immigration status, but it does enable recipients to apply for employment authorization. Those granted parole will be authorized for an initial two-year period and may request renewal.
DOS anticipates that the number of Central American children (and parents) admitted to the United States through this new refugee program in FY 2015 will be relatively small given the estimated processing times for U.S. refugee admissions. Those admitted will be counted against the 4,000 cap for FY 2015 admissions from the Latin America and Caribbean region although, according to DOS, there is some flexibility to accommodate a higher number this year, if needed.