Benefits Under Central American Minors(CAM) Program By The USCIS And DOS
Author: New York Immigration Lawyer Alena Shautsova
Imagine, in 2017, Martha had to flee El Salvador with her older son when gangs decided to recruit him, and when he refused, threatened to kill the entire family. Martha took her 13 years old son, and together they reached the US. But Martha could not take her young children for fears of not being able to cope with the hardships of the border crossing, not knowing if she will be able to provide for them, hoping that somehow she will be able to re-unite with them. Years passed, and also Martha filed for asylum, the asylum law states that one will be able to petition for their family members only after they win their asylum case. Martha has been separated with her young children for years, stuck in asylum backlog… But now, she has a chance of bring her children to the United States even prior to winning her asylum case!
In 2014, the Central American Minors program was enacted to accommodate minors from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Before the enactment of the bill, there was a large migration of unaccompanied minors to the United States. Most of these persons were fleeing gang violence in their countries, especially in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. At first, these immigrants were deterred from entry to the United States. This resulted in the expansion of detention centers at the border and the almost immediate deportation of the immigrants. This was done to discourage the migration of illegal immigrants including minors into the United States. However, the government did not take into cognizance the reason for the mass migration. Many of these people (minors included) were fleeing persecution and had other tangible claims for asylum.
When the use of forceful deterrent measures did not yield good results, the government of the United States deviated from the former approach and adopted a more favorable means for both parties. And in November 2014, the Central American Minors Program was enacted to regulate refugee and parole activities for asylum seekers. The program took effect in December of the same year. But, its implementation processes suffered unnecessary delays. The program was set to allow asylum seekers to place applications for asylum in their home countries rather than depending on smugglers(who could be dangerous to transport them to the United States border. If their application sails through, then they are allowed safe travel to the United States. But, due to the high level of restriction on the criteria for eligibility, the program restricted many young people from seeking asylum. Meanwhile, the program was designed for young people who are suffering persecution in their countries to seek asylum in the United States. Those who did qualify were subjected to extremely long processing times. It is on record that no child gained entrance into the United States via this program until November 2015, a year after its enactment. Due to the restrictive requirements, many asylum seekers whose applications were accepted did not get refugee status, instead, they were put on parole.
The Central American Minors Program was terminated in 2017 in the wake of the Trump administration. The Trump administration also revoked the parole determination of many applications that had been accepted, although the applicants had not traveled to the United States at the time. Besides, those who had received parole status and were in the United States were left without any way of renewing their parole or retaining their immigration status.
REOPNEING OF CAM
In a good turn of events for Central American asylum seekers, the Biden administration reopened the program in March of 2021 in phases. The first phase was to attend to the previously filed applications that have been pending since the cessation of the program. In June 2021, the second phase was announced to receive applications from new applicants. The eligibility criteria were made less restrictive and parents or guardians of minors were allowed to make applications for their wards. People who had the program's parole could as well apply for a re-parole.
More recently, the program's criteria had been enhanced to allow for a more flexible application processing, hence making it easier for applicants. As of 11 April 2023, the CAM program was enhanced to reduce the initial restrictive eligibility criteria.
The program allows certain parents or guardians to apply for United States refugee status for their children or wards. The children in question must meet the stated eligibility criteria and be proven residents of either Honduras, Guatemala, or El Salvador. Beneficiaries who are ineligible for refugee status are subjected to parole.
There are three(3) categories of eligible people, and they are, qualifying parents and legal guardians, qualifying children, and eligible family members.
Qualifying Parents and Legal Guardians
Qualifying parents or legal guardians must satisfy the following:
- Be at least 18 years old.
- They must be living in the United States as of the time of application.
- Must possess LPR status, TPS, parole or deferred action issued for at least one year, deferred enforced departure, withholding of removal, or with a pending asylum or T visa application or U visa petition pending since April 11, 2023.
- A qualifying child must be a genetic, step, or legally adopted child
- Must be unmarried and under the age of 21 at the time of application
- Must be physically located in and a national of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras.
Eligible Family Members
An eligible family member must satisfy the following to be considered eligible: Must be a child(ren) of the qualifying child, in-country parent of the qualifying child, unmarried children under age 21 of the in-country parent, children of the qualifying parent and their children and spouses, siblings of the qualifying child, and certain caregivers of the qualifying child.
In other words, you can also sponsor if filed at the same time:
Other family members so long as you add them on the same application as the qualifying children:
- Your grandchildren: Children of your qualifying children, who are unmarried, under the age of 21, and in their country of origin.
- Your spouse: Your spouse in Central America if they are part of the same household as your qualifying child; legally married to you at the time of application; and continue to be married to you at time of entering the United States. This spouse can also bring their unmarried children under the age of 21, even if those children are not related to you.
- Your children’s other parent who is not married to you: In-country parent of the qualifying child if they are the biological parent of the child and part of the same household. This parent can also bring their unmarried children under the age of 21, even if those children are not related to you. This parent can also bring their legal spouse.
- Your children who are married and/or 21 years old or older. These children can bring their spouses and unmarried children who are under the age of 21.
- If you are a legal guardian, not parent, then you can include the siblings of the qualifying child who are married and/or 21 years old or older.
- Your child’s caregiver: Primary caregiver of the qualifying child who is part of the same household as the qualifying child, and is related to you or the qualifying child.
- If you are a legal guardian, the primary caregiver of the qualifying child must be related to the qualifying child.
See International Refugee Assistance Project.
The enhancement of the program gave room for the following modifications including:
Grounds for Eligibility: Where previously the asylum application or U visa of a parent had to be pending since May 15, 2021, to apply, now parents and guardians with asylum and T visa applications or U visa petitions pending since April 11, 2023, are equally eligible to apply. For the first time, parents with pending T visas are eligible.
Evidentiary parole burden reduced on applicants: Instead of completing Form I-134, the financial supporter of a CAM beneficiary on the parole track during in-country processing may only present a sworn statement.
Reopening of cases closed in 2017: The new enhancement notice allows for the reopening of CAM cases filed between 2014 and 2017 that had not been considered for parole due to the cessation of the program.
Process for minor parolees: The Notice announces that USCIS will share information with CBP in certain cases of CAM parolee children who enter the US under the age of 18.
Now, to apply for this program, If you believe that you are eligible, you may file a DS-7699 (Affidavit of Relationship) at a designated resettlement agency in the United States. For a full list of our resettlement agency partners and their affiliates, please visit https://www.wrapsnet.org/rp-agency-contacts/. There is no application fee on behalf of the government. The process can take 6-12 months on average. Note, that a DNA test will be required if the relationship is claimed to be a biological one.
If you need help with an Immigration issue, call our office for a confidential consultation: 917 885 2261.