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State Department to Launch In-Country Refugee/Parole Program for Minors

On November 14, 2014, the United States Department of State published an in-country refugee/parole program for unmarried children under the age of 21 in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to reunite with their parents who are lawfully residing in the United States. Vulnerable minors who do not qualify for refugee admission may, on a case-by-case basis, be paroled into the United States on humanitarian grounds or where it is shown their entry would in the public interest. Children with undocumented parents in the United States are not eligible for the in-country refugee/parole program. The stated purpose of the program is to offer a safe alternative to potential child refugees who might otherwise embark upon a dangerous journey to reunite with parents already lawfully allowed to remain in the United States.

Starting in December of 2014, parents lawfully present in the United States will be able to file an application with Department of State on Form DS-7699 requesting a refugee resettlement interview. The application must be coordinated by a designated agency whose purpose is to assist with resettlement of refugees in the United States in partnership with the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Form DS-7699 will therefore only be available through the designated resettlement agency. The petitioning parent lawfully in the United States can include the second parent in the application if they are married to each other and the second parent is living with the principal child beneficiary in his or her home country.

Once an application is made, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) will contact the minor and conduct pre-screening interviews in the child’s home country. IOM will also require DNA relationship testing to confirm the child’s biological relationship with the petitioning, lawfully resident parent. Once parentage has been established through DNA testing, IOM will schedule the child for an interview with Department of Homeland Security who will determine the child’s eligibility to be admitted to the United States as a refugee. The child must complete a medical examination and undergo background checks before he or she will be approved for refugee classification and entitled to apply for admission to the United States in refugee status. The petitioning parent must also promise in writing to repay the U.S. government for the child’s cost of traveling to the United States.

Parole, i.e., temporary entry to the United States for up to two years, will be available for unmarried children under the age of 21 who are not eligible for refugee resettlement but who can demonstrate they are at risk of harm in their home country. The U.S.-based parent must submit an affidavit of support on Form I-134, guaranteeing the child will be financially supported during his or her stay. Furthermore, the child must receive a medical clearance and pass security checks as a condition of being paroled into the United States to temporarily reunite with their parent. The grant of parole may be renewed but does not place the child on a pathway to become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Though the child may attend school in the United States and be authorized for employment, he or she will not be eligible to receive medical or other benefits by virtue of having been paroled into the United States.

Those processed as refugees under the in-country refugee/parole program will be counted toward the limit of 4,000 refugees from the Latin America/Carribean region in FY 2015. But the number may be adjusted to accommodate additional refugees depending on the demand for the program.

Timothy D. Widman is a Immigration Attorney and the owner of the Law Office of Timothy D. Widman, with offices in San Jose and Cupertino.

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