Biden Administration Expands Central American Minors Program Eligibility to Allow Some Illegal Aliens to Petition Family to be Paroled into the United States
FAIR Take | September 2021
The Biden administration announced this week that it has begun accepting applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) program and has expanded the class of aliens eligible to petition for their family to be paroled to the United States. Eligible petitioners now include legal guardians (in addition to parents) who are in the United States, pursuant to any of the following qualifying categories: lawful permanent residence (LPR); temporary protected status (TPS); parole; deferred action; deferred enforced departure (DED); or withholding of removal. Aside from LPRs, aliens in these classes generally do not have a lawful immigration status, although may not be accruing unlawful presence because of administrative leniencies. In addition, this expansion of eligibility will now include certain parents or legal guardians who have a pending asylum application or a pending U visa petition filed before May 15, 2021, which consists of large numbers of aliens currently in the United States illegally, including recent illegal border crossers.
The CAM program was initially created by the Obama administration through executive action in 2014 to provide minors (later expanded to include adults in 2016) in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the opportunity to be considered, while still in their home country, for refugee status and transport to the United States. Under CAM, aliens found to be eligible for refugee status could be paroled into the United States.
The Obama administration created the program in response to the border crisis spurred in part by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (as well as numerous loopholes in immigration law), which resulted in unprecedented numbers of unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) entering the United States illegally. The program was designed to offer Central Americans a safe and U.S. taxpayer-funded alternative to a dangerous illegal border crossing from Mexico. The program, like many other class-based parole initiatives created by that administration, is that the program was never authorized by statute and eventually phased out by the Trump administration in 2017.
The Biden administration has expanded eligibility for the program to include aliens without lawful immigration status in the country because the original iteration of CAM, under the Obama administration, did not yield many results. The majority of applicants were found to be 1) ineligible for refugee status and 2) have family in the United States illegally, not legally.
To be eligible for refugee status, aliens must able to demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of a protected ground (i.e., race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group), among other requirements. Protection from general crime, such as gang-related crime and domestic violence, is typically not covered by the refugee and asylum laws, although has been the basis of a large number of asylum claims from aliens from Central America.