The Trump administration has cancelled an immigration assistance scheme established to help some of the world’s most imperiled children - a move activists say will lead to “suffering and death” for vulnerable youngsters.
The programme was established in 2014 and provided a safe-entry for children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador whose parents were already living legally in the US. It took note of the unique threat to the children in these countries from organised gangs, and the fact that tens of thousands of children were fleeing their homes and trying to make it northwards by themselves.
Now, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced it is terminating the scheme, following Donald Trump’s executive order cracking down on immigration signed in January.
The scheme was set up by the administration of Barack Obama - a man whom some activists dubbed the “deporter in chief” - at a time when tens of thousands of unaccompanied youngsters were making their way illegally into the US with the help of people smugglers or “coyotes”. It was only available for children whose parents were already living in the US legally and offered an alternative for youngsters who, for whatever reason, did not meet the requirements for asylum.
In 2014, a total of 57,498 children from the three Central American three countries crossed the southern US border. The Lutheran Immigration Service (LIRS), one of the groups that worked with the government to help reunite families said the scheme has helped a modest number of children - less than 3,000 to date. Yet even though the number were relatively small, activists said the scheme provided critical protection to those youngsters. LIRS said removing the programme will subject children to further harm and increasing risks of trafficking and child exploitation.
Oscar Chacón, Executive Director of Alianza Américas, said the decision was “unfortunate and misguided”.
“The decision by the Trump Administration to end th humanitarian protection programme for Central American minors, will result in suffering and death for the very children and young people most at risk from gangs and other violent groups in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador,” he said.
In 2015, El Salvador took over from Honduras as the deadliest country other than a declared war zone. That year, it recorded 104 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, a rise of 67 per cent on the figures for 2014. By contrast, the UK’s murder rate is 1 per 100,000 inhabitants, while the US has a figure of 4.