Government expands Central American Minors program | CLINIC

Government expands Central American Minors program

Jen Riddle

In July 2016, the Obama administration announced a number of expansions to the in-country refugee and parole program for children in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras who are in need of protection.  

Since December 1, 2014, the Central American Minors (CAM) program has permitted certain parents who are lawfully present in the United States to request a refugee status interview for their children residing in the Northern Triangle countries. The parent must have permission to be in the United States lawfully under one of the following categories: lawful permanent resident; Temporary Protected Status (TPS); parolee; deferred action (including DACA); deferred enforced departure; or withholding of removal. The application must be filed with a designated resettlement agency. 

Eligible children are admitted to the country through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  Those at risk of harm who are ineligible for refugee status may be granted humanitarian parole on a case-by-case basis.  Along with qualifying children, the parent’s legal spouse residing with the child abroad and the child’s unmarried children may also derive status.  The program was created “to provide a safe, legal and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey” that many children are undertaking to the United States.  According to recent reports, over 9,500 applications have been submitted with 2,880 approved – either for refugee status or humanitarian parole – yet fewer than 270 of these minors have actually entered the United States.   

The recent changes to the resettlement opportunities available to vulnerable individuals in the Northern Triangle region include:

  • Expanding the categories of accompanying relatives who may be granted refugee status or parole under the CAM program to also include:
    • Sons and daughters over the age of 21
    • The biological parent residing with the qualified child in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, even if that parent is not married to the parent in the United States
    • Caregivers of the qualified child who are related to the U.S.-based parent, including aunts, uncles and grandparents
  • Establishment of a protection transfer arrangement (PTA) between the government of Costa Rica, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The PTA will allow up to 200 CAM applicants in need of immediate protection to be transferred to Costa Rica after initial screening by the U.S. government where they can safely undergo additional refugee processing and resettlement.  This is critical for eligible children who face immediate dangers in their home country that prevent them from waiting to undergo the often lengthy process of resettlement.
  • An agreement between the U.S. government and UNHCR to establish an in-country refugee referral program by which vulnerable individuals can be considered for refugee protection and resettlement after screening by the U.S. government in the Northern Triangle region, without having to be outside their country of nationality. 

CLINIC welcomes this expansion, yet urges the government to continue to improve the speed and effectiveness of CAM implementation. We also encourage the agencies to seek additional methods to further protect Central American children facing increasing violence in their home countries; ideally, methods that include the surrounding countries that are more stable. By creating additional protections to work in tandem with this expansion, the government can offer a more comprehensive plan of action.

More information and resources about the CAM program are found here.  We encourage affiliates to continue to educate clients and communities about CAM, help identify those who may be eligible and refer parents to the closest designated resettlement agency by consulting the state-by-state directory at http://www.wrapsnet.org (click on “CAM Program”).