Trump administration ends Obama-era protection program for Central American minors fleeing violence

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday formally terminated an Obama-era program that granted Central American minors temporary legal residence in the United States, shutting the door on 2,714 people who had won conditional approval to enter the country.

President Barack Obama’s administration established the “CAM parole” program in 2014 to respond to a massive spike in the number of unaccompanied minors and families entering the country illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Under the terms, minors who failed to win refugee status could come on a two-year, renewable parole if they had a parent already legally present in the country.

But the program’s future was thrust in doubt in February when the Department of Homeland Security froze it and announced an internal review as part of President Donald Trump’s executive orders aimed at tightening immigration controls.

DHS’s termination announcement in the federal register means that the agency will begin the process of notifying families that the minors who had been approved for entry would have to reapply through other immigration channels that could be more difficult.

In addition, 1,465 minors already in the United States under the CAM program will not be allowed to renew their status and must go through other means to try to extend their stay.

Immigrant rights advocates condemned the decision that they said would thrust thousands of families into uncertainty.

“Our concern is that the administration is completely abandoning these children and leaving them in a real situation of immediate danger,” said Lisa Frydman, a vice president at Kids in Need of Defense.

DHS officials confirmed that the program had been rescinded and cited Trump’s executive orders on immigration from January as the impetus.

Carter Langston, a spokesman at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which oversee the immigration parole system, said the department “will no longer automatically consider parole requests from individuals denied refugee status in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.”

The Obama administration launched the program in December 2014 as part of a wide-ranging response to a huge spike of minors making the often-treacherous journey from the Northern Triangle countries to reach the United States.

That year, more than 60,000 unaccompanied children and about the same number of families entered the country illegally, flooding border patrol stations and adding to already lengthy immigration court backlogs.

Obama aides cited rising poverty, drug trade and gang violence as causes of the spike. The CAM program aimed to provide an alternative path to enter the country for those who were unable to win refugee status or political asylum, which often require applicants to prove they are victims of government-sponsored persecution.

“It was a safety net for children who were in danger but whose parts of their stories might not match a certain class under refugee status,” said Kevin Appleby, a senior director at the Center for Migration Studies. Appleby said that ending the program “is mean-spirited. It’s not a large number of kids and they’re really vulnerable.”

USCIS officials said that 99 percent of those who applied won admission to the United States under the CAM refugee and parole programs. They emphasized that the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the special parole did not end their chances of coming to the country. Rather, they will now have to apply through the standard parole program that has been in place for a far longer period of time.

According to USCIS, the pool of those who had won conditional approval under the CAM program but will no longer be permitted entry are 2,444 minors from El Salvador, 231 from Honduras and 39 from Guatemala.

Since Trump took office, the number of people trying to enter the United States illegally across the border with Mexico has plummeted. The president has taken credit for the reduction, and immigrant rights groups acknowledge that Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric and DHS’s new enforcement policies have had a significant impact.

But they emphasized that the administration is also shutting off important pathways towards legal immigration.

“It’s the drip, drip, drip of Trump trying to eliminate protection programs,” Appleby said.

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