Central American parents petition to be reunited with their children

Imagine being separated from your child for months or years, knowing they lived in a place with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, while you lived thousands of miles away.

Such is the plight of the 17 parents who gathered at 80 N. Glebe Rd. the morning of July 8 to complete paperwork for the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole program, a federal program that began accepting applications in December 2014. With the guidance of the diocesan Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, they were taking the first step toward petitioning for their sons and daughters to come to the United States under refugee status.

Though no dreams were fulfilled that morning, some were broken. One woman, whose son was approaching his 22nd birthday and was just now attempting to file the necessary paperwork, discovered that she was already a year too late. She left the orientation crying.

Managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, CAM states a few firm requirements: Parents who petition for their children must be in the United States legally; the children must reside in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras and be nationals of those countries; and the children must be under the age of 21 at the time the paperwork is filed. Though the children must be unmarried, if they have sons and daughters of their own, if found eligible, their children may come with them. But the firmest requirement is that the child must be a refugee.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines refugees as those "who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

The U.S. Government performs DNA testing on each candidate to ensure the parent and child are biologically related. Sometimes fathers discover that children they raised as their own are not their children, said Beth Fitzpatrick, volunteer program coordinator.

While there is no deadline for filing for the program, it benefits parents to file earlier rather than later.

So far, no applications that have gone through the diocesan MRS office have been approved.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015