Campaign underway to help Central American immigrants bring their children to the U.S.

Immigrant rights activists in Miami have launched a campaign to encourage parents who want to bring children to the United States from three Central American countries to sign up for a new U.S. program under which minors may qualify for refugee visas or special parole permits.

The groups Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization and American Fraternity are promoting the program in Miami’s Central American communities as a way to head off another possible exodus of unaccompanied minors similar to the one that overwhelmed the Mexican border last year.

More than 51,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras crossed the border during fiscal year 2014.

Francisco Portillo, president of the Francisco Morazán Honduran Organization, said his office will welcome inquiries in person or by phone from people who are interested in applying for visas or paroles under the program. Meanwhile, Nora Sandigo, president of American Fraternity, said she planned to tape a public service video aimed at encouraging people to sign up for the program instead of paying migrant smugglers to bring their children illegally across the border.

Portillo’s organization is located at 757 NW 27th Avenue, Suite 207. The phone number is 305-643-5840.

Both Sandigo and Portillo said they launched their campaigns because they want to prevent another disorderly exodus and also because they have noticed a relatively small response to the refugee and parole program announced by President Barack Obama’s administration last year.

“Now that the refugee/parole program is in effect, we are trying to persuade people to use this program instead of coming across the border in a disorderly fashion,” said Portillo.

The overwhelming majority of minors who arrived last year through the border said they fled their homelands because of growing gang violence.

Under the program announced last November, the State Department established the refugee/parole program for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as a way to “provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative” to the chaotic and dangerous border-crossing exodus, according to a State Department website.

The program is available only for parents who are “lawfully present in the United States,” according to the website. Immigrant rights activists say this means parents who are U.S. citizens or residents or who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

The website does not say what the requirements are to prove the parents’ children qualify for a refugee visa, but immigrant rights activists say threats from gangs likely would serve as evidence of persecution.

The website says that if the children are rejected for a refugee visa, they can then apply for parole. Applications can only be filed through one of half a dozen organizations in the Miami area that are included on a lengthy list of groups selected by the State Department to handle program applications.

Unmarried children under 21 can be covered by the program, the website says. “Under certain circumstances,” which are not explained in the website, a parent who is in Central America can also apply along with the child under 21.

Once an application is filed through one of the approved organizations, the youth in his or her home country will be contacted by refugee officials and called in for an interview after a DNA test confirms the relationship to the parent or parents in the United States.

If approved for a refugee visa, U.S. refugee officials will arrange travel to the United States as long as the parent or parents sign a promissory note agreeing to refund the U.S. government for the cost of the trip.

If the applicant is found ineligible for refugee status, then he or she will be considered for a parole under humanitarian or public benefit reasons, according to the State Department website.

Parents of youths approved for parole will be required to pay for their travel to the United States.