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USCCB Official Urges Congress To Improve In-Country Refugee Program For Central American Minors

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WASHINGTON—The Central American Minors (CAM) program, a new initiative of the U.S. government which allows children in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to apply for asylum and humanitarian parole in the United States from their home countries, is a tool that helps save children’s lives, said a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) representative, April 23.

“This program is an important tool which offers protection to children threatened by violence from organized crime networks. It also prevents them from taking the dangerous journey to the United States at the mercy of unscrupulous smugglers. It could literally save their lives,” said Anastasia K. Brown, interim executive director for USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest. The hearing was held to examine the program and discuss outcomes.

The CAM program was launched in response to the unprecedented number of children fleeing violence in the northern triangle region of Central America. Almost 70,000 unaccompanied minors arrived in the United States from the region last year. It is estimated that up to 40,000 children could arrive in the United States in 2015.

Brown stated that the CAM program should be considered one part of a multi-dimensional approach to child migration from the region. Other elements, she said, include strengthening asylum and child welfare systems in neighboring countries and addressing the push factors, such as violence and the lack of opportunity, in Central America.

“The CAM program is not a substitute for a comprehensive approach which requires other nations, such as Mexico, to provide refugee protection to these children,” she said. “Moreover, we must not overlook the need to help these nations address the violence and poverty which drive children and families to make the desperate decision to migrate.”

Brown offered several recommendations to make the program work more efficiently and to serve those most in need, including assuring access to the program, assuring safety of children during processing and streamlining the application process.

She also urged members of Congress to not repeal current legal protections for unaccompanied children from Central America and to base U.S. policy on child welfare and refugee protection principles.

“In the end, U.S. policy must be based upon the best interests of these children, who are extremely vulnerable, and not upon enforcement measures designed to prevent them from migrating or to more easily deport them,” she said. “To deny them protection and to return them to danger violates American values of due process and protection from persecution, not to mention international legal standards,” she concluded.

Her testimony can be found at: www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/congressional-testimony/upload/Anas...

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