BIDEN REOPENS THE CENTRAL AMERICAN MINORS INITIATIVE
The Biden administration has announced that it would begin accepting new applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) initiative, an Obama-era immigration policy that aims to offer a safe and legal way for migrant children to reach the southern border.
Upon announcing that new petitions will be accepted, the departments of State and Homeland Security issued a joint statement:
“We are firmly committed to welcoming people to the United States with humanity and respect, and reuniting families. We are delivering on our promise to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration from Central America through this expansion of legal pathways to seek humanitarian protection in the United States.”
The relaunch of the program has been celebrated by immigration and human rights groups, who have highlighted the dangers that are often faced when migrant children are otherwise forced to make dangerous journeys to reach the southern border.
What is the CAM initiative?
The CAM program was an initiative started in 2014, designed to give at-risk children in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the opportunity to come to the United States if they have a parent or legal guardian legally present here in the U.S.
Unfortunately, the program was one of the first casualties of the Trump administration – swiftly closed in 2017. The abrupt nature of the termination of the CAM initiative left thousands of cases pending – with some of the children involved stuck in holding facilities at the border.
Who is eligible?
According to the U.S. Department of State, applications will be considered if you are a parent of a legal guardian who is:
- a citizen of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, at least 18 years of age;
- legally present in the United States in any of the following categories (permanent resident status; temporary protected status; parole, deferred action; deferred enforced departure; or withholding of removal)
- have either a pending I-589 application for asylum or an I-918 petition for U nonimmigrant visa filed prior to May 15, 2021.
How eligibility has changed
This June, the government expanded this eligibility, which previously did not include people with pending applications for asylum or U visas (which are reserved for victims of serious crimes).
People who are green card holders, those who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and others with temporary legal status in the U.S. may also apply.
When will applications begin?
New applications began on September 14 – a day after the announcement was made.
How long will the process take?
Administration officials have estimated that the immigration process should take between 12 and 14 months.
Can previously closed cases be reopened?
With the Trump administration bringing such a swift end to thousands of immigration cases, there have been concerns that these decisions will be considered final – but in many cases, this is not the case.
According to the Department of State, if you submitted an application before November 2017 and your child was yet to receive a refugee interview, you may be eligible to reopen your case. Resettlement agencies that processed these cases are currently attempted to contact affected families here in the U.S.
If you meet these criteria and you think your contact details have changed since the original application, you should get in touch with the resettlement agency and update your contact information. If the resettlement agency or office you worked with has since closed, don’t worry – your case will be transferred to another branch and the agency will get in touch.
How do you know if your child will be considered a refugee?
The government’s legal definition of a child refugee looks complex – but it can be understood by focusing on a series of key considerations outlined on the State.gov website.
Under United States law, an individual may be considered for admission to the United States as a refugee if he or she:
- Is located outside of the United States
- Is of special humanitarian concern to the United States
- Demonstrates that he or she was persecuted or fears persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group
- Is not firmly resettled in another country; and
- Is admissible to the United States
A refugee does not include anyone who ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
It’s important to remember that eligibility for refugee status is decided on a case-by-case basis by an officer working for the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
What does the CAM process involve?
If an application is made through the CAM program, the children of U.S.-based parents will be interviewed in their home country – where an officer will talk to them about their experience and any persecution they may have suffered.
Even if a child is denied official refugee status, they may still be entitled to humanitarian parole – which will still allow them to enter the U.S. legally. Although parole status does not represent a pathway to permanent U.S. status, it is quick and can often see a child brought into the country in just days where there is an urgent humanitarian need.
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