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Report: Border Children Program Likely to Have Limited Impact

A program begun by the Obama administration to help Central American minors reunite with parents in the U.S. and prevent a repeat of last year's arriv
In this Tuesday, July 7, 2015, photo immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala who entered the country illegally board a bus after they were released from a family detention center in San Antonio. Women and children are being released from immigrant detention centers faster on bond, with many mothers assigned ankle-monitoring bracelets in lieu of paying. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Eric Gay / AP

A program begun by the Obama administration to help Central American minors reunite with parents in the U.S. and prevent a repeat of last year's arrivals of unaccompanied children at the border, isn't likely to have as big an impact as hoped, an immigration think tank reported Thursday.

The administration created an in-country refugee processing program known as The Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee/Parole Program following last year's arrival of tens of thousands of young children and families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The program was designed to help those in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras affected by the rising rates of homicide and growing organized crime to apply legally to enter the U.S., avoid treks through the desert and to stop smuggling rings exploiting the migrants.

The program also was intended to help curb the political embarrassment of the border crisis and prevent its use by Republicans to back opposition to immigration reforms.

“The central purpose of the program is to find a legal pathway that would prevent minors from taking a dangerous and unauthorized journey through Central America and Mexico to get to the United States,” said Michelle Mittelstadt, director of communications and public relations of Migration Policy Institute.

While the CAM refugee processing program might help Central American minors reunite legally with their parents who are already in the U.S., it is not likely that it will do so at a scale that can significantly reduce child migration flows to the United States right now, the institute reported.

An estimated 3,344 minors overall had applied through the program as of August 10, the vast majority from El Salvador, with much smaller numbers from Guatemala and Honduras. The program has only recently begun to draw more significant numbers of applicants.

Last year, tens of thousands of young children from Central America and Mexico arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border after having fled their violence-racked countries, some having been incorrectly told by smugglers they would be allowed to stay once they got to the U.S. and following dangerous rides on the tops of trains and precarious treks through the desert.

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The program is the latest in a series of in-country processing initiatives that began in 1979, in response to wars, humanitarian crises, and periods of political oppression. Other in-country processing programs have operated in countries including Vietnam, Cuba, Haiti, and Iraq.

A review of such programs shows that their success turns on key factors such as admissions criteria, how the application process is structured, the speed of adjudication, and whether applicants can be adequately protected during the application process.

"Since the program has only been around for eight to nine months, a very young one, it is too early to assess how successful it will turn out,” Mittelstadt said.

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