U.S. program for Central American child refugees to end Thursday

FILE PHOTO: Migrants attend a workshop for legal advice following the U.S. government's recent announcement it would step up deportations of Central Americans families that arrived since May 2014 when there was a surge of women and minors arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, many fleeing drug gang violence, in south Chicago, Illinois, January 10, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department will stop accepting new applications at midnight on Thursday for a program that allowed children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to apply for refugee status in the United States before leaving home.

President Donald Trump’s administration told Congress in September it would phase out the Central American Minors (CAM) program during fiscal year 2018, which began on Oct. 1.

New applications will not be accepted after 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday (0459 GMT on Friday), the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday night.

The CAM program started at the end of 2014 under former President Barack Obama as a response to tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors and families from Central America who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum in the United States.

An executive order on border security signed by Trump days after he took office in January triggered a review of the program.

In its report to Congress, the Trump administration said it was ending CAM “because the vast majority of individuals accessing the program were not eligible for refugee resettlement.”

The government will instead focus on “more targeted” refugee processing in Central America, working with the government of Costa Rica, the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration, the report said.

As of Aug. 4, more than 1,500 children and eligible family members had arrived in the United States as refugees under the CAM program since it began in December 2014, according to the State Department. More than 13,000 people have applied for the program since it began, it said.

Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney