Central American Minors Parole Program Making Brief Comeback, After Lawsuit, Settlement

Central American Minors Program, which was terminated under the Trump Administration, is brought back solely for the purpose of finishing processing for those who had obtained initial approval to rejoin family members in the United States.

By , J.D.

** LEGAL UPDATE **

After a federal judge found that the U.S. government's "mass rescission of conditional approvals for parole of 2,714" children who'd been cleared to enter the U.S. under something called the Central American Minors Program (CAM) was "arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act," the government agreed to a historic settlement. (See the Memorandum of Agreement in S.A. v. Trump.)

Under the settlement agreement, these approximately 2,700 children (and in some cases one of their parents), who have been living in dangerous conditions in Central America, will be at last allowed to reunite with parents or spouses who are already living legally in the United States.

Below is a bit of history on the program and more information on its current legal status.

What Is (or Was) the Central American Minors Program?

The CAM program was created by the U.S. government in 2014, under the Obama Administration. It responded to concern about the numbers of Central American children traveling alone to the U.S. without lawful immigration documents in order to join family members here.

Qualified young people living in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras were allowed to apply for U.S. entry under CAM; not with a U.S. green card, but with either refugee status or something called "parole," allowing for follow-up applications after arrival in the United States.

It's important to stress that eligibility for and entry into CAM were made entirely dependent on the existence and help of U.S.-based family members who held some form of lawful U.S. residence. (The program offered no help to undocumented parents in the United States.)

The program was administered by both the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Applications were made through designated refugee resettlement agencies working with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

In August, 2017, the Trump Administration terminated the parole program for all recipients except those already in the United States. See the relevant Federal Register announcement.

Details on Eligibility for Central American Minors Program

To qualify for CAM, applicants needed to consider both the parents' and the childrens' qualifying criteria.

The "qualifying parent" did not need to hold an actual green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence) for CAM purposes, but had to be at least 18 years of age and in the U.S. as either a:

If one parent still lived with the child in the home country, and was married to the U.S.-based parent, that second parent could also be considered for the CAM program.

Children, in order to be CAM-eligible, needed to have been:

  • unmarried
  • under age 21
  • living in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras, and
  • either
    • match the legal definition of a refugee (based on fear of persecution in the home country) or
    • be at risk of harm in the home country and merit an exercise of discretion (for instance, the child needed to clear all background checks, have no serious derogatory information on record, and have someone in the U.S. commit to providing financial support).

In August, 2016, the Obama administration expanded the program so that other relations of the primary child could also be considered for entry. These included over-21 siblings of the child (who have the same U.S. parents), the primary child's biological parent, whether or not married to the U.S.-based lawfully present parent, and caregivers of the child (such as an aunt, uncle, or grandparent) who are also related to the U.S.-based parent.

A number of applicants did successfully qualify, and were on their way through the process when the Trump Administration abruptly cut off the program.

What's Next for the Central American Minors Program?

Under the 2019 settlement, the U.S. government has agreed to process the approximately 2,700 people who were conditionally approved for parole prior to termination of the CAM program, as well as later-born children within the same families ("add-ons"). If such applicants no longer meet the eligibility criteria, however, they will not be processed.

The settlement does not bring the CAM program back into operation. Whether this settlement will lead to any change on that front remains to be seen.

Effective Date: April 12, 2019