Asylum-seeking children need alternative to dangerous border crossing


The Department of State has stopped accepting applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee Program.

President Barack Obama established this program to provide unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the Northern Triangle countries) with “a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey” many of them were making to apply for asylum in the United States.

A UNICEF Child Alert entitled, “Broken Dreams,” describes the dangers of that journey.  

{mosads}The children are vulnerable to human traffickers.  Many of the girls reportedly end up being forced into prostitution.  Many are victims of sexual violence.  Estimates of the number of kidnappings vary from hundreds to thousands a year.  And hundreds of migrants die each when they reach the harsh environment along the Mexico-U.S. border.

“It is heart-rending to think of these children – most of them teenagers, but some even younger – making the grueling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth.

It is not possible to give refugee status or asylum to all of the UACs, but it should be possible for all of them to apply for such relief.

Ordinarily, to be eligible for refugee status or asylum, an alien must be outside of his country and afraid to return to it because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.  

The primary difference between the two is that asylum is only given to aliens who are at the U.S. border or inside the United States.

United States presidents, however, have the discretion to authorize granting refugee status to persons who haven’t left their own countries.

Obama used the CAM program to make in-country refugee application processing available to the children in the Northern Triangle countries of certain parents who were lawfully present in the United States.

President Donald Trump will phase out the CAM program in FY 2018 because “the vast majority of individuals accessing the program were not eligible for refugee resettlement.”

The CAM program wasn’t achieving its objective in any case.  More than 100,000 UACs made the dangerous journey after it went into effect.  

It wasn’t available to enough UACs to be an effective alternative.

The magnet that draws UACs to the United States.

The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) established special protections for UACs. Other than UACs from Mexico or Canada, they are entitled to asylum hearings before an immigration judge. Otherwise, they would be deported without an asylum hearing unless they could establish a credible fear of persecution.

It is apparent that this mandate was intended to protect UACs who are trafficking victims, and UACs who come here seeking asylum are not trafficking victims.  In any case, applying this provision to all UACs has created a powerful magnet that attracts asylum-seeking UACs.

Former President Barack Obama tried to deal with this problem by asking Congress to give the “DHS Secretary additional authority to exercise discretion in processing the return and removal of unaccompanied minor children.”

The United States is not alone in trying to help UACs.  

For example, Mexico’s Southern Border Plan has produced a sharp increase in Mexico’s apprehension and deportation of migrants from Central America, which prevents many UACs from reaching the United States.  

And UNHCR convened a “Roundtable on Protection Needs in the Northern Triangle of Central America” last year in Costa Rica to formulate a regional framework for addressing the humanitarian challenges that the aliens fleeing from those countries present.  

The Governments of Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and the United States vowed to work together to strengthen protections for refugees fleeing Central America.

I suggested a way to use international cooperation before the CAM program was established, but it will not be possible until congress limits the TVPRA’s UAC mandates to trafficking victims.

Move UACs who reach America to temporary locations outside of the United States where they would be screened by UNHCR to determine which ones are eligible for refugee status.  UNHCR would try to resettle the ones determined to be refugees in countries throughout the region and elsewhere, including the United States.  

UNHCR has a 10-Point Plan of Action for refugee protection which includes help for aliens who cannot establish eligibility for refugee status, such as assistance in obtaining temporary migration options.

This approach would help more UACs than letting them apply for asylum in the United States under the current administration, and parents of UACs would stop sending them on the perilous journey to the United States if they knew they would just be returned to Central America to be screened by UNHCR.

Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years; he subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.

Tags Asylum in the United States Barack Obama Cultural globalization Demography Donald Trump Forced migration Human migration Human trafficking Illegal immigration Immigration to the United States refugees Unaccompanied minor United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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