Senators Question U.S. Aid for Child Migrants

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A program to process the steady stream of young refugees from Central America divided the Senate Judiciary Committee about the so-called erosion of immigration law.
     CAM, short for the Central American Migrant Refugee and Parole Program, is just one sympathetic avenues the Obama administration has pursued to handle the unprecedented influx of Central American immigrants, particularly children, that began entering the U.S. illegally in 2012 and reached record levels in the summer of 2014.
     While many Republicans advocate cracking down – more arrests and deportations, plus hurdles to keep more immigrants from making it into the country – programs like CAM make it easier for those who entered illegally to stay, and reduce dangers on the path for others still determined to come.
     With CAM still in its early stages, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest held a hearing Thursday to discuss whether the program is “eroding the law and diverting taxpayer resources.”
     Committee Chairman Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called the CAM program “troubling,” describing it as part of the Obama administration’s continuing effort to create new laws rather than use and enforce the laws already in place. By creating new avenues for immigrants to enter the country without going through the legal immigration process that is already in place, Sessions said that CAM surrenders to illegal immigration and rewards illegal activity, encouraging more immigrants to continue to cross the U.S. border.
     “While Congress has clearly provided for the admission of certain individuals as refugees, and we’ve always done this … this program warps those authorities and undermines the integrity of the immigration system,” Sessions said.
     Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called it “a shame” that other senators question whether the CAM program does too much to allow children in danger to enter the U.S.
     Putting aside any flaws in the developing program, it cannot be said that CAM is doing too much, Blumenthal added. The migrant children in question need help and safety, and no country has ever felt ashamed for doing too much to save children, Blumenthal told the committee.
     “They’re not coming here because they want food stamps or any other benefits,” Blumenthal said.
     He added: “They are coming to escape oppression, brutality, murder, rape. They are seeking hope, security, and they have a special tie to our country.”
     A joint project of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the State Department, CAM creates a refugee-application process for children still in their home countries of Honduras, El Salvador or Guatemala who would try to make the long and dangerous journey to cross into the U.S. illegally.
     Successful CAM applicants must qualify as refugees under the program’s guidelines, be under the age of 21, have a parent already lawfully settled in the U.S., submit to a DNA test, pass a background check and pass a two-hour interview process.
     USCIS representative Joseph Langlois and State Department representative Simon Henshaw explained CAM’s benefits and strict procedure to the committee during Thursday’s hearing. Both men have more than 30 years’ experience in working with immigrant and refugee programs.
     “The administration established the program to provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to join their parents in the United States,” Henshaw testified. “Our goal is to extend protection to those children with legitimate humanitarian claims while providing an effective alternative to irregular migration driven by dangerous criminal smuggling networks.”
     Sessions appeared bothered by the lack of clarity in whom USCIS and the State Department deem a refugee, and the parole aspect of the program that allows those who don’t qualify as refugees but face harm in their home country to be accepted on a case-by-case basis.
     The senator repeatedly asked witnesses about whether CAM applicants would have a broader definition of refugee than foreigners applying for refugee status on their own, and he speculated whether USCIS and the State Department would use the flexibility of parole to accept every child who applies to CAM, adding to the influx of immigrants.
     Only 565 applications have thus far been received, Henshaw said, and though they hope more will apply as the program becomes more well-known, he said CAM will likely never become a pathway for vast amounts of children to enter the U.S. because of its strict requirements and the U.S.’s cap of 70,000 refugees per year.
     Another complaint Sessions had with CAM’s “erosion of the law” is how the program defines a parent who legally resides in the U.S. of a CAM-eligible child. A parent who legally enters the U.S. has always had a legal way to apply for their child to join them, and they didn’t have to qualify for refugee status, Sessions said.
     He said CAM expands parents’ rights to create a level of “legal presence” in the U.S. that encompasses migrant parents who did not enter the U.S. legally. Those parents can now have their children, and their legally married spouse, enter the U.S. through CAM.
     After Langlois and Henshaw explained the facts about CAM, Sessions hosted a second panel of people experienced in working with immigrants and refugees to discuss their views on what effect CAM might have.
     Jan Ting, a law professor at Temple University Beasley School of Law, said that CAM’s parole program appears to exceed what is allowed under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The U.S. already gives out more green cards than any other country, Ting said, and he thinks the U.S. has no international obligation to go out and find refugees and bring them to America, as the government is doing with the in-country CAM program.
     The U.S. has been administering in-country immigrant processing programs since 1979, said Doris Meissner, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program.
     Though such program have always been controversial, CAM is an important element in the government’s efforts to curb future waves of immigrants similar to the last few years of children and families fleeing violence in Central America, she added.
     “A well-run, in-country processing program can both reduce irregular flows [of immigrants], and provide relief to some among those who need it most,” Meissner said.
     Igor Timofeyev, a former Department of Homeland Security advisor, and Jessica Vaughan, of the Center for Immigration Studies, both argued that CAM diverges strongly from already-established immigration law, and it may create more problems than it solves. The U.S. already has a family-reunification program, but Timofeyev and Vaughan see CAM as creating a new version of the family-reunification program, which will benefit parents who entered the U.S. illegally. As a result, Vaughan said illegal immigration will likely increase as parents enter the country illegally to then get status for their children.
     Anastasia Brown, interim director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, has worked with families in Central America, and she spoke to the horrors children face in that region. Life is so dangerous that many parents think their children are better off being handed to smugglers to try to cross through Mexico and enter the U.S. CAM is consistent with national and international law, Brown said, and it gives children who live in constant danger an opportunity to find safety in the U.S.
     “Saving children’s lives should never be characterized as a waste of resources,” Brown said.

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