With Relaunch of the Central American Minors Program, the U.S. Government Has Important Opportunities to Enhance Child Safety
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration in March announced that it would restart the Central American Minors (CAM) program, allowing certain children living in dangerous conditions in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to enter the United States legally if they have a qualifying parent or legal guardian already in the country. Created under the Obama administration and terminated under the Trump administration, the program was designed to reduce the number of often-risky unaccompanied child journeys to the United States by offering a safe and orderly alternative.
A new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI)’s Human Services Initiative, Relaunching the Central American Minors Program: Opportunities to Enhance Child Safety and Family Reunification, examines the track record and challenges of the original version and policy changes for the new program. It also offers recommendations to further improve child safety, accessibility and family reunification.
The original CAM program begun in 2014 permitted approximately 4,600 children and qualifying relatives to enter the United States—a fraction of the Central American children seeking to reunify with a parent in the United States. The program’s narrow eligibility rules, complex applications process and limited resources resulted in some applicants waiting more than 400 days to arrive in the United States. And 86 percent of qualifying parents under the original program were Salvadoran, suggesting the program worked principally for nationals of that country.
Minors applying under the original program had to have a parent in the United States with a green card, Temporary Protected Status or other designated parole or deferred removal status. The new version expands eligibility to parents as well as legal guardians who had a pending asylum application or U visa petition before May 15, 2021. The report’s authors note there are no publicly available data estimating the size of this newly eligible population and suggest the government should consider creating targets for the numbers of children it seeks to admit through the CAM program and expand eligibility if those levels are not met.
To strengthen the program, the report suggests the federal government consider seeking dedicated appropriations for the program, address bottlenecks in the application process to speed up processing and work with local partners to address safety concerns for children awaiting determinations.
The authors note that of the cases receiving a final decision under the original program, 70 percent were granted parole (a temporary status that does not provide a path to legal permanent residence) and 29 percent were given refugee status, which does lead to legal permanent residence. Given parolees are not entitled to the same benefits and services as refugees and also have to pay upfront for pre-departure medical exams and travel costs, the report recommends improving supports for these children. It also recommends improving language access, as most of the information for the original program was offered only in English in the three countries.
“Even if the program grows significantly, it is likely to represent a solution for a very limited share of children who would otherwise arrive unaccompanied at the U.S. border, but it can still play a critical role in promoting family reunification and reducing the dangers facing these children,” the report’s authors, Mark Greenberg, Stephanie Heredia, Kira Monin, Celia Reynolds and Essey Workie, conclude.
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/relaunching-central-american-minors-program.
For a look at where unaccompanied minors have been released to sponsors at U.S. and state levels from 2014 to the present, check out this data tool: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/unaccompanied-children-released-sponsors-state-and-county.
Para leer este informe en español, haga clic aquí.