Of the more than 5,400 children, mostly from El Salvador, have applied to join their parents who are already (legally) in the United States, under the Obama administration’s Central American Minors program, established in December, not a single one has been granted entry, the New York Times reports.
The program was established in response to growing numbers of minors fleeing fleeing street gangs, extortion, and sexual violence in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. So far, the Department of Homeland Security has only interviewed 90 of the 5,400.
“Really, it’s pathetic that no child has come through this program,” the president and chief executive of nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Lavinia Limón, said.
The process, it seems, is slowed by an abundance of red tape. “They have set up an elaborate, bureaucratic, step-by-step system,” Limón said. “The children are in danger, and they can’t wait. It’s just sad, and, I think, indefensible.”
Administration officials said it is important that the program not make any mistakes in who is granted entry to the United States, because political adversaries could use any failure to try to shut down the effort. They said that requires being methodical in processing applicants, even if that creates some delay.
State Department officials also said that most of the applications for the program were submitted in the last four months and that the Department of Homeland Security had already begun preparing to screen some of the children before their DNA testing and other paperwork.
While only 90 children have been interviewed so far, State Department officials said that most of the applications for the program were submitted in the last four months.
The principal deputy assistant secretary of state, Simon Henshaw, told the Times that the department is preparing to interview as many as 420 more children beginning this month, and that some children will begin to be granted entry in the next two weeks—of the 90 interviewed, 10 qualified as refugees and 75 were recommended for entry under “humanitarian parole,” a temporary status.
Most of the children come from El Salvador, where there were 4,246 homicides in El Salvador from January to August of this year—an average of 17.5 per day—up nearly 70 percent from the same period in 2014, The Guardian reported in September.
The country has a population of around 6.4 million people, and, according to an earlier Guardian story, about 50,000 gang members (including more than 10,000 in jail) between ages 12-55: “With the addition of several hundred thousand wives, children, parents and collaborators, it is estimated that nearly one in 10 Salvadoreans depend on the gangs.”
Speaking of officials at the Department of Homeland Security running the Central American Minors program, Lavinia Limón remarked, “I wonder if it were their child living in the murder capital of the world, whether they would have more sense of urgency.”