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Exclusive: U.S. curbing program for abused migrant youth

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published 2 weeks ago - Duration: 03:19s

Exclusive: U.S. curbing program for abused migrant youth

The Trump administration is dramatically curbing a program that allows immigrant children that have been abused, abandoned or neglected by their parents to get green cards.

Zachary Goelman reports.

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Exclusive: U.S. curbing program for abused migrant youth

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) "JOSE," IMMIGRANT FROM HONDURAS SAYING: "As time went on I was growing up and things were getting harder and harder with the family so that is what brought me here." Jose is an immigrant living in New York, who asked that we not his full name or show his face because he entered the country illegally and his immigration case is pending.

He fled Honduras when he was 17 years old.

He said he was looking for a better life for himself, and eventually his siblings and his mother.

But he also said his father was an abusive drunk, who beat him with a whip and hit his mother with a pistol.

He hired a smuggler to bring him to the United States, where he was detained by border agents, then released ahead of deportation proceedings.

Now Jose is hoping to qualify for a special status for juvenile immigrants who flee abuse, abandonment, or neglect, one that could award him a green card.

(SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) "JOSE," IMMIGRANT FROM HONDURAS SAYING: "Yes, I am worried because it is just a process of waiting, it’s like when you buy a lottery ticket and if your number gets called you win, it’s just like that." But obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile status is getting much harder.

Reuters has found the Trump administration appears to be throwing up hurdles to applications like Jose's.

Mica Rosenberg covers immigration.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS IMMIGRATION CORRESPONDENT MICA ROSENBERG, SAYING: "The data that we found shows that there was a huge increase in the number of what are called 'requests for evidence,' which means that the government is basically asking for additional paperwork to approve these applications.

So in 2016, before Trump took office, in that fiscal year, there was about 340 of these requests.

And then the following year in 2017, that jumped to over 4,000.

So it was really an astronomical jump.

And lawyers just say that they've been flooded with these requests." The Safe Passage Project in New York is a nonprofit that provides lawyers, pro-bono, to immigrant and refugee children facing deportation and helps them navigate these growing requests for evidence, also called RFEs.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE SAFE PASSAGE PROJECT SAYING: "It was the exact same language in every RFE that, essentially, seemed to be creating a procedural obstacle.

That the government was intentionally trying to slow down, to find administrative road blocks from helping these children find safety and security." Data obtained by Reuters show the number of request for evidence surged in the first year Trump took office.

A spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the agency evaluates every petition on a case-by-case basis.

In a statement, the spokesman said request for evidence help cut down on frivolous claims. The Special Immigrant Juvenile program was meant to protect kids, but it's getting subsumed into the larger debate about who gets to come to this country, and how.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS IMMIGRATION CORRESPONDENT MICA ROSENBERG, SAYING: "The applications for these visas really exploded in recent years with the surge of unaccompanied minors coming from Central America.

So critics of the program really think that it's become too permissive, and that people are applying who really don't deserve it, while advocates say this is only one of the few avenues that kids from Central America or from other places, fleeing violent situations have to stay permanently and safely in the United States." Jose filed his application in 2017.

A year later, the government formally issued a denial.

Now 22 years old, he hopes his appeal will be successful.

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