Biden Administration Uses Executive Action to Restart the Central American Minors Program
FAIR Take | March 2021
The Biden administration announced this week that it is restarting the Central American Minors (CAM) program. 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 or parole in the United States. The program, like many other class-based parole initiatives created by that administration, was never authorized by statute and eventually phased out by the Trump administration in 2017.
The program was created in response to the border crisis created by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, 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 crossing of the border from Mexico.
Individuals found ineligible for refugee status were considered for the possibility of entering the United States under parole if they could be united with family in the United States legally. The program was expanded to include adults in 2016 because the program did not yield many results. The majority of applicants were found to be either 1) ineligible for refugee status or 2) have family in the United States illegally, not legally.
Those who could not be processed under CAM had the opportunity to be transferred to Costa Rica under the Protection Transfer Arrangement (PTA) — mostly funded by the United States — before being resettled here. PTA was not terminated by the Trump administration.
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.
The administration indicated that it will restart the unlawful program by affirmatively reaching out to aliens in Central America whose cases were closed in 2017 to see if they are still interested in coming to the United States. “The State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is working closely with DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reopen the program in two phases,” a Department of State news release stated. “The first will process eligible applications that were closed when the program was terminated in 2017, and the second will begin to accept new applications with updated guidance to follow.” The administration provided no information, however, regarding how the reboot of this program comports with law or good public policy given the real hardships faced by U.S. citizens and legal residents today.