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DOS Scraps CAM Refugee Program Months after CAM Parole was Terminated

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With barely a 24 hour notice, the Department of State (DOS) stopped accepting new applications for the Central American Minors (CAM) refugee program on Nov. 9, 2017.  Likewise, USCIS will stop interviewing CAM cases as of Jan. 31, 2018. After that date, individuals with pending applications who have not been interviewed will receive a notice with further instructions.

The decision to terminate the CAM refugee program was made as part of the U.S. government review of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program  in response to President Trump’s executive orders aimed at tightening immigration controls. The parole portion of the CAM program was terminated in August 2017.

The Obama Administration had enacted the CAM refugee/parole program in 2014 to respond to a massive spike in the number of unaccompanied minors and families entering the U.S. illegally from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Under the program, minors who failed to win refu­gee status could enter on a two-year, renewable parole if they had a parent already legally present in the country.

Applications were first accepted from qualifying parents in the U.S. on behalf of their children on December 1, 2014 and had to be filed with a designated resettlement agency. Only parents over 18 and legally present in the U.S. were eligible to be qualifying parents. Each qualifying child had to be unmarried, under the age of 21, and residing in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. The other parent of the qualifying child residing in those countries also qualified if they were the legal spouse of the qualifying parent in the U.S.

In July 2016, the Obama administration expanded the categories of accompanying relatives eligible for refugee status or parole to include: (1) sons and daughters over the age of 21; (2) the biological parent residing with the qualified child in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, even if that parent is not married to the parent in the United States; and (3) caregivers of the qualifying child who are related to the U.S.-based parent (including aunts, uncles and grandparents). The changes were made to capture more derivatives; especially since the parents of many Central American Minors are not legally married and because many Central American Minors live with guardian in their countries while their parent earn and income and send remittances from the United States.

Although critics had complained of the program’s restrictions and lengthy screening process, many also recognized that improvements were being made and that the CAM program was saving lives. As of August of this year, 1,627 youth had been brought to the United States as refugees through CAM. Another 1,465 had come on temporary parole.

Without the CAM refugee or parole program, many expect human trafficking of minors to increase. As for those children who could have otherwise been eligible to come to the U.S. as CAM refugees or parolees, many are in danger of forced recruitment into gangs, and can face death if they refuse.

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