WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate Republican leadership’s funding bill to end the government shutdown that would codify President Trump’s immigration proposal into law is dangerous and disingenuous. Instead of offering humanitarian protection, it would decimate protections for unaccompanied children and leave them vulnerable to grave harm, including human trafficking, torture, and even death.
The Senate Republican “Central American Minors Protection Act of 2019” embedded in the proposed spending bill eviscerates U.S. asylum and trafficking laws offering desperate children the ability to ask for protection in the United States. The bill bears little resemblance to the Central American Minors (CAM) program enacted by the Obama Administration in 2014, which the Trump Administration cruelly ended in 2017, slamming the door on thousands of children with pending, and in some cases, even approved, applications.
The bill puts children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who are currently not in the United States at increased risk of harm. Upon enactment, the bill requires these children to apply for asylum outside the United States, heightens the eligibility standards, and precludes any judicial review of DHS decisions regarding such claims. In addition, the bill does not allow vulnerable children from Central America who are in immediate danger in their home country to go to the United States temporarily through humanitarian parole.
The bill places severe limits on the ability of vulnerable refugees and children to access various humanitarian protections that currently exist for those fleeing severe harm. Specifically, the bill forces an individual to apply for only one form of immigration relief even if the individual is eligible by law for multiple forms of immigration relief.
For example, this bill would bar an asylum seeker from withdrawing an asylum application to pursue other forms of humanitarian immigration relief such as a U or T visa or the immigration protections provided by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In addition, the bill bars an asylum applicant from applying for family-based immigration status from a qualifying U.S. citizen or permanent resident relative. Given the extensive backlogs in immigration court, asylum applicants awaiting a hearing may choose to withdraw the asylum application and obtain other immigration relief to resolve their case in an efficient manner. This bill forecloses this possibility.
Overall, the bill completely undermines asylum and trafficking protections for Central American children, particularly the most vulnerable children who do not have a parent or guardian in the United States, cannot afford the processing fee, and cannot wait in the country where they fear persecution, or even in a neighboring country, to receive protection.
Other problematic provisions include:
- The program would limit asylum to a mere 15,000 in total out of a pool of no more than 50,000 applicants. For context, more than 240,000 unaccompanied children have entered the United States since 2014.
- The program would require a child to make their own application, and charge them a fee for an application that is currently free.
- Children must have a “qualified” parent or guardian in the United States, although it is unclear how “qualified” is determined.