Unsurprisingly, U.S. immigration policy changes with each presidential administration. In 2014, the federal government established the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee and Parole program. The goal of the program was to help certain children in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador (collectively known as the Northern Triangle) resettle as refugees in the United States. Many children who would be eligible for the program might otherwise undertake a dangerous journey in an attempt to reunite with a parent who had already come to the United States.
Unfortunately, when a new administration took office, the CAM program was not a priority. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced in August 2017 that the program would be terminated, and in November of that year, the program stopped accepting new applications. Interviews of CAM refugee applicants ceased in January 2018.
However, President Biden recently issued an Executive Order on Creating a Comprehensive Regional Framework to Address the Causes of Migration. As part of this initiative, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of State are reopening the CAM program in an effort to offer a safe, and legal, path for family reunification.
The reopening is a two-step process. Phase one involves reopening of pending applications that had been filed before the program was terminated, so long as the petitioner is still eligible, and all parties are still interested in participating. Phase two will involve the acceptance of new petitions for the CAM Refugee and Parole Program. Phase one began in March 2021; phase two begins in the summer of 2021.
If you have a family member who may be eligible for the CAM program, you should understand what is necessary to qualify as a refugee. The person seeking refugee status must be:
Individuals who have ordered, incited, or participated in the persecution of another person due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group are not considered refugees.
A “qualifying parent” may petition for a child’s participation in the CAM program by filing Form DS-7699 (Affidavit of Relationship). In order to be considered a qualifying parent, you must be in one of the following statuses:
Your status must be valid and unexpired at the time you file your Affidavit of Relationship. If you are a parolee or have been granted deferred action, the parole or deferred action must be for at least a year.
If you filed Form DS-7699 at a resettlement agency in the United States, but your child was unable to have a refugee interview before the CAM program was terminated, it is possible that you can reopen your case. The resettlement agency should reach out to contact you to start the reopening process.
If, like many people, your contact information has changed since you submitted your petition, you should contact the agency with your new information. If the agency with which you filed has closed, your application was transferred to another agency. That agency should contact you. If you do not hear anything, or fear that the agency does not have the right contact information for you, consult an experienced immigration attorney for help following up on the status of your petition.
New or reopened cases will have their applications relayed to the Resettlement Support Center (RSC) Latin America. The RSC is staffed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has offices in all of the Northern Triangle countries. Qualifying children and family members will be contacted for further processing and an interview.
Individuals granted refugee status will have to go through a medical exam, security checks, and participate in cultural orientation. The RSC will help those refugee children with travel arrangements to the U.S. city in which the qualifying parent lives.
If a child does not qualify as a refugee, he or she may still be granted parole status on a case-by-case basis. While a refugee is allowed to remain in the United States indefinitely, a parolee is allowed to enter the United States on a temporary basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or if their presence offers a significant public benefit.
Refugees can adjust status and become lawful permanent residents after one year, after which they can pursue U.S. citizenship. Parole does not offer immigration status or a path to citizenship. While parole is for a defined time period, a parolee may request to be present in the United States for an additional period of parole.
If you have further questions about the Central American Minors program, please contact our law office to schedule a consultation.