Within the past two year or so, a sizeable number of unaccompanied children—some 70,000 last year alone—have been apprehended attempting to illegally enter the United States. Most of them came from just three countries—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and many of them hope to join relatives already residing legally in the U.S.
The migration of children from South and Central America to the United State is nothing new. But over the past two years, the numbers have spiked. This is due to a number of factors, including a sharp increase in gang and drug-related violence, high homicide rates, and severe inequality.
In an effort to discourage these children from undertaking this very dangerous journey, some children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras may be granted legal refugee status in the United States, beginning in December, if at least one parent is already a legal resident of the United States.
This parent must fill out an application form for the child, who must be unmarried and less than 21 years old. Both must submit a DNA sample to verify a familial relationship. If the other parent is living with the child in the country of origin, that parent may also be eligible for asylum in the United States.
Each application will be studied case by case, and a determination of eligibility for asylum in the United States will be made. The child may also be interviewed at a U.S. office in his or her home country.
Should a child be ineligible for asylum, he or she may still be considered for parole, which would allow this child to come to the United States for humanitarian reasons. Parole is temporary and does not confer any permanent legal immigration status or path to permanent legal immigration status in the United States.
“The program will provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children make,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “It provides those seeking asylum a right way to come to our country, as opposed to crossing the border illegally."