Ending Critical Protection for Children from Central America Leaves Thousands in Danger

by KIND Press Release   on August 16, 2017

August 16, 2017—By ending a narrow, but critical form of temporary protection for an incredibly vulnerable group of children in Central America and revoking the protection of many others who the government has already approved, the Trump Administration is making a mockery of the United States’ commitment to child protection. Without this lifeline, children facing gang violence in Central America will be forced to undertake the life-threatening journey from their home countries to seek safe haven at a U.S. border.

The U.S. government has already acknowledged that these children are in grave danger in their home country. Now this administration is abandoning these children to near certain harm and potentially death. This is absolutely unacceptable.

These children have been repeatedly told by the U.S. government, including the Trump Administration, not to migrate to the United States due to safety concerns. Yet, now this Administration is cutting off the only authorized channel and leaving children no choice but to make the perilous journey to the United States.

The Central American Minors program (CAM) has provided a temporary haven to children in serious danger in their home countries. These children are unable to avail themselves of protection from the governments in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala because these countries are unable to control gangs who target children for forced recruitment and force girls into intimate relationships against their will. In addition, these countries have very weak child protection systems. The CAM program allows children who have a parent in lawful immigration status in the United States who is able to support them[1] to apply; they must establish that they qualify for refugee status or parole because they are in danger in order to be approved to come to the United States.

CAM is a small and very targeted program that is not susceptible to a surge in applications due to its narrowly drawn eligibility requirements and the complex process.[2] For example, children with an undocumented parent cannot benefit from the program. Neither can children with relatives other than a parent or step-parent living in the United States. The program has provided vital protection to 3,000 individuals who have arrived in the United States, including 1,500 children paroled into the United States who otherwise may have been forced to rely on smugglers and human traffickers to escape peril.

Parole has protected children like Maria. On her way home from school one day, Maria witnessed gang members shoot and kill a neighbor. That same day, Maria received nonstop threatening calls and voicemails from gang members – warning that she had 24 hours to leave the community or be killed. Her boyfriend also received threatening messages. Maria left that day and went into hiding. As her CAM case was being processed, Maria remained in danger as gang members continued to threaten her family. Ultimately, Maria was granted parole, allowed to enter to the United States, and is now safe and living with her mother. She has a pending claim for asylum.

 

Revoking offers of parole is cruel, harmful to children and families, and forces children to migrate to the United States to seek protection.

Under CAM, the United States has approved parole for 2,700 Central Americans who remain in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Children offered parole are in danger in their home countries; many have already directly suffered violence or other harm, and others live in gang-controlled neighborhoods where they face the constant threat of gang violence. Children have left schools because it is unsafe to leave home or because gangs control the schools. Others have been forced to stop attending church.

Some children are in even more danger because they have applied for CAM. For example, Reyna, whose persecutor discovered that she had a pending CAM claim threatened to kill her if she disclosed the harm she suffered during her CAM interview.

Children with offers of parole are fully vetted after going through rigorous processing and screening, which can take up to two years. They have done everything the U.S. government asked of them, including completed DNA testing to establish relationship to their parent in the United States, been interviewed by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer, gone through multiple security checks, and secured passports and travel authorization letters. Parent petitioners have had their immigration status verified. Some children offered parole have completed medical examinations, and some parents have already paid for their child’s travel to the United States. These children and their families now are being abandoned. The U.S. government should stand by its word and honor its approvals for these children.

Revoking parole irrevocably harms children such as:

  • Maria was living with two uncles when they were killed for standing up to gang members that controlled the neighborhood. The same gang members threw a hand grenade into the house, which fortunately did not explode. Maria has been overcome by fear ever since. Her father, a long-term permanent resident in the United States, filed a CAM application for Maria. Although she was informed that she had been approved for parole, Maria remains in El Salvador waiting to safely reunify with her father, far from the horrible violence she endured.
  • Angelica: When Angelica was 14 years old gang members began physically and verbally harassing her outside school on her way home. Angelica told her teachers, who told her they could not help. A few months later, gang members kidnapped, beat, and raped Angelica, releasing her after one week. Angelica was too traumatized to return to school and learned that she was pregnant as a result of the rape. After her daughter was born, the gang member who raped her said he wanted the baby. He forced his way into Angelica’s house, demanded to take the four-month-old baby girl with him, and threatened to kill everyone in the house if they tried to stop him. Terrified, the family relented, and he took the baby. Angelica’s family went to a lawyer who, with the help of the town mayor, enabled the safe return of her daughter. The mayor, however, did not involve law enforcement. The gang member returned again—this time in the middle of the night—again kidnapping the baby. Although Angelica was able to get her baby back, she knows it is just a matter of time before he kidnaps her again. Angelica and her daughter were approved for parole and remain in El Salvador waiting for travel to the United States. She believes that she and her daughter remain in grave and imminent danger and they do not leave the house for fear of what might happen to them.
  • Jairo has worked very hard in school and attempted to avoid any contact with the gangs that are so prevalent in his neighborhood. Jairo’s deep faith in God and Christian values drives his belief that gangs are bad and act against his faith. Despite Jairo’s efforts, he had a personal disagreement with a cousin who is involved in gangs and was threatened. Jairo received parole; the U.S. government asked Jairo’s mother in the U.S. to pay for his plane ticket in January, which she did. He never received the ticket. Jairo’s mother cries daily, sick with worry for his safety.

 

By slamming the door on some of the most vulnerable children in Central America, the Trump Administration is leaving them at risk of death.

El Salvador and Honduras, the countries with the greatest number of CAM, cases remain overrun by violence, and children in these countries cannot expect protection from their countries. Honduras’s homicide rate in 2016 is still dangerously high at 59 per 100,000.[i] Levels of femicides (gender-motivated killings of women) have increased significantly in 2017.[ii] Multiple homicides or massacres have victimized children during the first six months of 2017.[iii] During the first six months of 2017, the same numbers of LGBTI individuals have already been murdered as during all of 2016.[iv] According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Honduras, “impunity in Honduras is at a historical high and is a key factor contributing to violence and insecurity.”[v] El Salvador’s homicide rate was ranked the highest in Latin America, with 81.2 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016.[vi] In El Salvador, the crimes of extortion, kidnapping and rape continue unabated. As in Honduras, the Salvadoran child protection system is rife with weaknesses, and protections for women and child survivors of domestic and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence are practically non-existent. There is a 95 percent impunity rate for these crimes.[vii]

Yet, despite the dangerous conditions in this region, the Trump Administration has launched a full-fledged assault on Central American children, stripping them of the protection of CAM parole and doing all it can to prevent them from arriving at the U.S. border and accessing protection in the U.S.

By conducting raids against Central American children in the United States and targeting their parents and other sponsors, turning children back at the U.S./Mexico border, and now decimating CAM, President Trump is leaving Central American children trapped in their countries and turning them over to the hands of the very gangs he has called “vicious,” murderous, bloody, “animals.” These children are prime targets for gangs given their extreme vulnerability – with a parent in the United States and no safety net in their countries.

It is more important now than ever that the Administration keep the remaining, but still very limited, protection programs in the region for those whose lives are in serious danger in Central America.

Destroying all hope for protection harms children and parents and creates desperation that could lead children into the arms of smugglers and traffickers. For all the Administration’s tough talk about stopping smuggling and human trafficking, revoking CAM parole has the opposite effect.

 

 

For more information, please contact Megan McKenna, mmckenna@supportkind.org, 202-631-9990.

 

[1] Certain additional close family members of the qualifying child can be included – such as the child’s siblings over the age of 21 and the child’s caregiver.

[2] The CAM process involves multiple steps on the part of parent petitioners and child beneficiaries, and involves multiple agencies. See a flow chart of the process at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/580e4274e58c624696efadc6/t/583c496a20099ed67c51f2ea/1480345963566/CAM+Handout.pdf.

[i] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/insight-crime-2016-homicide-round-up

[ii] http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/187-Women-Murdered-in-Honduras-in-2017-20170724-0028.html

[iii] http://www.casa-alianza.org.hn/images/documentos/CAH.2017/1.Inf.Mensuales/6.%20informe%20mensual%20junio%202017.pdf, pg. 30-31

[iv] Interview, Red Lesbica Cattrachas, July 24, 2017

[v] https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B4E_ITBL2vi3M3dra3BCR1hpRG8

[vi] http://www.insightcrime.org/news-analysis/insight-crime-2016-homicide-round-up

[vii] “Neither Security nor Justice, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Gang Violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala,” Kids in Need of Defense, https://supportkind.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Neither-Security-nor-Justice_SGBV-Gang-Report-FINAL.pdf (May, 2017).

 

 

 

 

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