NYLAG Sees Room for Improvement in President Obama’s Refugee Plan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that at least 58% of unaccompanied minors are eligible for some form of immigration relief.

60% of unaccompanied minors are believed to have viable claims for some form of immigration relief.

NYLAG was pleased to see President Obama’s announcement last week about a plan to allow children in Central America fleeing rape and gang violence to apply for refugee status. But with conservative estimates predicting that over 100,000 unaccompanied minors will enter the US by year’s end – more than 60% of whom are believed to have viable claims for immigration relief – far more than the 4,000 refugee visas Mr. Obama has proposed are needed.

Irina Matiychenko, Director of NYLAG’s Immigrant Protection Unit, has developed a refugee program that can alleviate the effects of the border crisis, relieve our overburdened immigration courts, protect innocent children, and help to resolve one of the worst humanitarian crises in US history. It is modeled after an earlier US immigration program put in place to address a similarly urgent humanitarian need. In 1990 the US granted refugee status to religious minorities subject to persecution in the Former Soviet Union and other countries. All persons who belonged to a special group, such as Jews, were presumed to be subjected to persecution and thus eligible for refugee status.

The NYLAG proposal would establish a presumption that certain Central American youths are at grave risk of violence or even death in their home country, and are therefore eligible for relief. In keeping with the President’s plan, the screening for refugee status would be done in the country of origin, deterring children who would not ultimately qualify for refugee status from attempting to undertake the dangerous journey across the border.

This form of relief does not set program parameters such as age limits, or require applicants to individually prove that their fear of persecution is well-founded. For children fleeing violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala there would be a presumption of persecution, making those who are not granted status under the refugee visa cap eligible for humanitarian parole status based on the urgency of the crisis.

“We urge the President to use executive action to adopt this plan. It has worked in the past to aid immigrants fleeing persecution in other countries. It can work now to help innocent children who are literally running for their lives,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge.