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U.S. to allow more Central Americans to seek refugee status

Many people in Florida are aware that for some time there has been a wave of people coming to the U.S. border from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, some of the most violent places on earth. The migration peaked in 2014 when thousands of unaccompanied children crossed the border in Texas. Until recently, many were turned away and sent back to their home countries, often at great risk of being killed.

On July 26, the Obama administration announced that it was significantly broadening a program that allows unaccompanied children from Central America to enter the U.S. as refugees. The expanded program will allow the children's family members to enter. Eligible family members include parents, siblings and relatives acting as caregivers.

Over the last two years, about 9,500 people have applied for refugee status under the program. With the expansion of eligibility to include family members, the number of applicants will likely grow significantly. So far, only about 600 Central Americans have been approved for refugee status since the recent migration began. Of these, 267 are children who were allowed in because their parents were already living in the U.S. legally.

Obtaining refugee status in the United States is not easy. An applicant must prove that he or she was forced to leave their homeland due to a realistic fear of being persecuted for their political views, their race, their nationality or their religion. Those who do not qualify can often still legally join family members through the parole process, which allows immigrants to enter the country but does not provide a path to citizenship. Understanding the law that governs refugee status can be a real advantage for an immigrant fleeing persecution.

Source: New York Times, "U.S. to Admit More Central American Refugees," Julie Hirschfeld Davis, July 26, 2016

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