U.S. will phase out program for Central American child refugees

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s administration is ending 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.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The administration will phase out the Central American Minors (CAM) program during fiscal year 2018, according to a report provided to Congress and obtained by Reuters. That report also sets the overall refugee cap for the year at its lowest level in decades.

The CAM program started at the end of 2014 under the administration of 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.

The program allowed vulnerable young people with parents in the United States to process their applications in their home region and avoid making the dangerous trip through Mexico to the U.S. border on their own, said Karen Musalo, the director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at University of California-Hastings.

“I think there is very little interest in understanding on the part of this administration as to who are refugees and our country’s commitment to protect people fleeing persecution,” Musalo said.

The report 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.

The U.S. had already said in August it was ending one element of the program.

An executive order on border security signed by Trump days after he took office in January triggered a review of the program, putting on hold the applications of more than 2,700 children who had been conditionally approved for entry into the United States. Those applications - the bulk of which were for children from El Salvador - have been canceled.

As of August 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 Mica Rosenberg in New York and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien