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February 15, 09

NEWS / Refugee Admissions Program for Latin America and the Caribbean


Background

Since 1975, over 101,000 refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries have been resettled in the United States. Over 65,000 have come from Cuba, with other significant numbers from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Colombia. Refugee admissions for the region were 2,981 in FY 2007 and 4,277 in FY 2008.

Cuban Program

At present, the bulk of U.S. refugee processing in the region is conducted in Cuba. The refugee program is a component of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords under which the U.S. has agreed to issue a minimum of 20,000 travel documents annually to Cubans for permanent resettlement in the United States. Over 4,100 Cubans arrived in the United States last year through the refugee program. Cubans eligible to apply for admission to the United States through the in-country refugee program under the Priority 2 (P-2) category include:

* Former political prisoners;
* Members of persecuted religious minorities;
* Human rights activists;
* Forced labor conscripts during the period 1965-1968;
* Persons deprived of their professional credentials or subjected to other disproportionately harsh or discriminatory treatment resulting from their perceived or actual political or religious beliefs; and
* Persons who have experienced or fear harm because of their relationship – family or social – to someone who falls under one of the preceding categories.

Cubans outside Cuba may be considered for resettlement if referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or a U.S. Embassy.

Colombian Program

In FY 2002, the U.S. began to resettle vulnerable Colombian refugees located in Ecuador and Costa Rica. Most Colombian refugees have fled the armed conflict as a result of persecution for political opinion at the hands of either left-wing guerrilla or right-wing paramilitary groups. In past years, UNHCR limited the number of Colombians referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, as many cases were being placed on hold because of the possible applicability of material support inadmissibility provisions in our immigration laws. The number of Colombian refugees admitted to the U.S. started to decline in FY 2005 and began to rise again in FY 2008 after a material support exemptions protocol was established. Under the exemptions signed on April 27, 2007 by the Secretary of Homeland Security for material support provided under duress to a designated terrorist organization, individuals who provided material support under duress to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) (September 6, 2007), National Liberation Army of Colombia (ELN) (December 18, 2007) and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (March 10, 2008) may now be admitted. 94 Colombian refugees were admitted in FY 2008. We expect to see even more referrals and therefore greater arrivals in FY 2009.

FY 2009 Admissions Program

The FY 2009 ceiling for refugee admissions from Latin America and the Caribbean is 4,500. Of these, the majority will continue to be Cubans processed through the in-country program.

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