Trump’s Travel Ban Impacts Unaccompanied Minors Coming to California

President Trump

When President Donald Trump signed his executive order banning individuals from seven specific countries entering the United States, airports around the country devolved into chaos in late January. The ban was halted shortly thereafter. But at the end of June, the Supreme Court ruled that parts of the ban could be implemented for a period of 90 days until the case is heard this fall. Now, only those who have a bona fide relationship with someone in the United States can enter. For unaccompanied minors who travel to the US as part of a refugee program, this is a problem.

Julie Rajagopal and her husband Mike Gougherty of San Francisco welcomed a 16-year-old boy from Eritrea in March. He was one of the last unaccompanied minors to make it to the United States after the ban. But the process wasn't easy. Rajagopal did a lot of leg work on her own, calling government officials in Congo overnight to get her son’s paperwork expedited. Today, the family of three is able to enjoy their time together as other families around the country are forced to wait in limbo. The Rooney family of Brighton, MI were matched with an Eritrean boy the day that the Supreme Court ruled in June. Now they have no idea when they'll see him.

For nearly three decades, the United States has operated the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program (URM). It is run by the Administration of Children and Families which falls under Health and Human Services. The program started in the 1980’s to help children from Southeast Asia who arrived Thanks to a series of limitations put in place by the travel ban, the program has been halted. It is run in conjunction with the Department of State which determines eligibility for children who have no parents to resettle in the US.

Catholic Charities’ works with the URM and operates the only refugee resettlement program in Northern California for minors fleeing oppression in their native country. The program welcomed a teenage girl from Eritrea back in February. She went through several years of vetting and was cleared to enter the US by the United Nations but the travel ban delayed her arrival and almost made her ineligible for URM.

Now the girl, known as Fatima to safeguard her identity, has joined her foster mother, originally from Italy, in the Bay Area. Fatima joins a small group of 11 foster children across the Bay Area to begin a new life after a traumatic past at home. Some of them come from the same refugee camp, Mai Aini, that Fatima came from. She is one of the lucky few to make it here under the Trump Administration Travel Ban. For the other children in Mai Aini and other camps in Eritrea, who were slated to come to the United States through the URM program, the future is uncertain.

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