Central American Minors (CAM) Program Explained


The Central American Minors Program (also known as CAM) was created to allow eligible minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (the Northern Triangle countries) to join their parents or other close relatives who live in the United States with legal status. President Barack Obama initiated the program in 2014 as a response to a spike of number of minors fleeing adverse conditions in their home countries and applying for political asylum in the U.S Most of the unaccompanied minors seeking admission to the U.S. come from the most violent regions of the Northern Triangle countries and try to escape recruitment by criminal gangs, whose activities rose dramatically from 2011 to 2014. The main goal of CAM was to protect underage immigrants who escape persecution in their home countries from criminal activities such as smuggling or human trafficking, on their route to the U.S. Overall, CAM served two purposes, first, it protected vulnerable minors, and second, it helped decrease the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border and with that preserved Customs and Border Protection resources, who face an unprecedented number of people crossing the southern border. 

Since the initiation in 2014, more than 3000 individuals, both as refugees and with parole, were accepted to the U.S. under CAM. In 2017, the Trump administration terminated the program, and 2500 more applicants were not able to enter the U.S. as a result. Despite a relatively short lifespan, the program showed some positive results. The year after its inception, 2015, showed a 45 percent decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors from the Northern Triangle trying to cross the border. 

In March 2021, the Biden administration announced the intent to reinstate the program. During the first stage of the reopening, all the cases which were given “pending” status because of CAM’s termination in 2017 will be reconsidered. During the second stage, new applications will be accepted. Some modification of the program’s basis for illegibility was announced as well, however, no specific details have been provided yet. 

In short, CAM allows parents or other close relatives from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala who live in the U.S. and have a legal status here, to apply for asylum for their underaged children, while they still remain in the countries of their origin. To be eligible for the program, parents must maintain legal status in the U.S., and their children must be under the age of 21, be unmarried, and be nationals of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. 


After applying, the program gives applicants two options – obtaining the status of a refugee, or parole. To qualify for refugee status, applicants must prove that they meet a definition of a refugee, that is, they are of special concern for the U.S, unable to stay in their home country for fear of persecution based on religion, nationality, race, political opinion, and membership in a particular social group. In case of approval, applicants who hold refugee status, will receive financial assistance and get a path to U.S. citizenship. 

To be eligible for parole, applicants must get a security clearance, prove they are at risk of harm in their home countries, and have someone in the U.S. who will support them financially. The parole status, however, does not provide a path to citizenship, it only grants admission to the U.S. and eligibility to get work authorization.


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