The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday formally ended a policy of former President Barack Obama’s administration that paid for Central American children whose refugee claims had been rejected to relocate to the United States.
President Donald Trump ordered a review of the program in January as part of an executive order on immigration. The Department of Homeland Security finally carried it out with publication of a notice in the Federal Register. From now on, rejected applicants younger than 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras will not automatically be waved into the country — at taxpayer expense — as part of a process known as parole.
“This ends an automatic parole,” said Carter Langston, a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman.
The change only affects minors in those three countries who applied in their home nations for refugee status in America. Langston said the program benefited 1,465 people whose refugee claims had been rejected. Parole status treated them more or less as if they were refugees, allowing them to come to the United States, where they could apply for work permits and remain indefinitely.
The change does not affect the much larger number of Central American youths who have paid smugglers to take them to the United States. Since 2014, 170,000 youths who have been apprehended near the border or at ports of entry along the Mexican border have been placed with American sponsors. Most have been placed with sponsors in the United States pending a determination of their asylum claims. That program has continued without significant changes since Trump took office.
Advocates of tighter immigration enforcement praised Wednesday’s action, which they argued corrects an abuse of the original intent of immigration parole.
“If you didn’t get refugee status, this gave you a second bite of the apple,” said Robert Law, director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). “It was basically just a relocation program.”
The new rule returns parole to its original function. Rather than apply automatically to all minors who do not qualify for refugee status, youths seeking parole status will be evaluated individually and must demonstrate they qualify, either due to humanitarian reasons or because it’s in the national interest to let them in.
“Parole is only supposed to be exercised on a case-by-case basis … the Obama administration said … ‘We’re going to do a blanket parole,'” said Matthew O’Brien, director of research at FAIR.
O’Brien, who previously served as fraud detection and national security directorate at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Obama’s parole policies — and his polices on unaccompanied minors crossing the border — encouraged a trickle to grow into a flood.
“Basically, the word got out, and that’s what triggered a lot of the people to come,” he said.
It is unclear why it took nearly six months to implement this part of Trump’s executive order or why officials felt compelled to post it in the Federal Register rather than simply reverse the policy with an executive memo.
“It’s an example of the bureaucracy turning slowly,” he said. “It’s an example of the Trump administration not being very skilled in this because they’re all new to politics … It’s also a convenient excuse when they want to slow-walk something.”
(photo credit, homepage image: Adam Baker, Flickr)