In 2014, unaccompanied alien children from Central America walked across America’s southern border in droves. This year, the U.S. government will pay for unaccompanied alien children to be flown into the country, even if they were convicted of a felony, and furnish them with federal benefits to boot.
It sounds outlandish, so how is it happening? It’s called the In-Country Refugee/Parole Program for Central American Minors, and the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security introduced it on November 14, 2014. They promised it would not become “a pathway for undocumented parents to bring their children to the United States,” but it appears that’s not the case. The program not only creates a pathway for Central American children to reunite with their newly amnestied parents, it also pays their travel costs and ensures them federal benefits. The program is open to any unmarried child under age 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, provided they have a parent lawfully present in the U.S. If the children fail to qualify as refugees, they may be admitted as parolees, which will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged on an invitation-only conference call last week that it was willing to accept people into the program who have previously been deported. “They are able to apply for a waiver for the inadmissibility,” a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official said on the call. “It’s the I-602 process,” the official said, referring to waivers filed by refugees previously determined to be inadmissible to the United States. The official added that “the waiver authority for the refugee program is quite broad.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, says the Obama administration should rename the project “the MS-13 Reunification Program,” because of the number of MS-13 gang members who could potentially take advantage of the program.
But Foggy Bottom appears to be sending applicants to the refugee program a different message. On last week’s conference call, a State Department official said applicants would not need to worry about the cost of participating in the program. “I’d just like to reiterate with this family-reunification program there is no cost other than the DNA testing that the parent must front,” the official said. “This program has been operational since December 1st and we stand by to accept more applications.”
Regardless of whether the refugees and parolees will pay for their travel, the government will provide them with federal support once they arrive. That support consists largely of basic resettlement and placement services, which include airport reception; housing and basic household needs; food or food allowance; assistance in enrolling in benefits and services; assistance in accessing health-screening and medical services; and assistance in enrolling children in school, orientation, and home visits.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.