The Abrupt End of the Central America Minors Program

(Photo/Public Domain)

Last week, the Department of State abruptly ended the filing of new applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) program. This humanitarian program was created in 2014 in response to the large influx of children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras seeking refuge in the United States.

At the time, there was no way for any of these children to apply for refugee status in their home countries. The only way for them to receive protection was by coming to the United States and crossing the border without authorization. This exposed many children to the dangers inherent in crossing though Mexico with a smuggler.

According to the State Department, “the CAM refugee program became effective on December 1, 2014, and allowed certain parents lawfully present in the United States to request a refugee resettlement interview for their children and eligible family members who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.”

The program had been slow to start up and was open only to the children of parents with legal immigration status in the United States.

Rather than set a future date for termination of the program, as has been past practice, the State Department simply announced that it would “not accept any new applications to the CAM refugee program after 11:59pm EST, November 9.” In other words, at the time of the announcement on November 8, an application would have to already have been in the mail to still be considered.

For those applications that have been received, the State Department will continue pre-screening for refugee resettlement, but it will not schedule interviews for those seeking humanitarian parole into the United States, and it will no longer grant that parole authorization to come to the United States. Hence, only those who qualify as refugees, a relatively high standard, will be allowed to come in under the program.

The CAM program was an “effective way for some parents who worried that their children were in danger from the violence in Central America to bring them here in a safe and orderly manner,” said Carmen Maquilon, director of immigrant services for Catholic Charities.

Her group was the only Long Island nonprofit allowed by the State Department to help the children resettle here. Several hundred of the children have already come here legally via this program, but she worries that an equal number of Long Island applicants are still waiting to be processed.

Those who might have qualified for the parole program are no longer being allowed in. Those who qualify for the refugee program are still being interviewed, but their future is uncertain, as changes in immigration policy now seem to take place daily.