Saturday, June 5, 2021

Biden Has Restarted the Central American Minors Program. Will That Help?

On March 10 the U.S. State Department announced officially that it was restarting the Obama administration’s Central American Minors (CAM) program, a process for Central American youths to seek refugee status from within their own countries instead of having to travel across Mexico to the U.S. border.

CAM will definitely benefit a certain number of Central Americans, but it will do little for most of the tens of thousands of Central Americans now seeking asylum from dangers in their countries.

The Obama administration announced the earlier CAM program in the fall of 2014. The proposal sparked wild accusations from the right wing about “a dangerous situation” and “[p]otentially millions” of Central American youths being flown into the United States “with taxpayer dollars.” In reality, as we warned at the time, the program could only help a limited number.

The program, we noted, was

only open to immigrant parents from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras who are “lawfully present” in the United States. They may be legal permanent residents (LPRs), for example, or be covered by temporary protected status (TPS), or they may have had their deportations deferred.

Applicants also had to go through a time-consuming vetting process while remaining in their home country, which ruled out people in immediate danger. And since CAM was administered through the refugee program, the number of minors accepted was restricted by the administration’s proposed ceilings for refugees. In 2015 the ceiling was 4,000 for all of Latin America, and most of the slots were already allocated to Cubans.

How Did the First CAM Turn Out?

As we predicted, relatively few Central American minors were admitted into the United States through the program, which ran for less than two years before being shut down by the Trump White House.

No, CAM didn't bring millions of youths to the U.S.
A total of 2,631 Central American minors ended up being settled here as refugees, we learned in February from a spokesperson for the State Department, which managed the program. Some other minors were admitted to the United States temporarily in a parole program administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; these parolees would be able to seek permanent status from within the country through other channels. (Presumably this would include such avenues as protection under the Convention Against Torture.) According to information provided by USCIS spokesperson Victoria Palmer, about 2,400 of these parolees had entered the country by last December; it’s not clear how many have had their cases resolved.

So how many Central American minors will actually benefit from the resurrected CAM program?

The limitations on the original program still apply with the revived program. The new refugee ceilings the government announced on May 3 are somewhat higher than those for 2015, with a total of 5,000 slots allocated for Latin America and the Caribbean, an increase of 1,000; in addition, Cubans no longer have the priority they had in 2015. So the number of minors granted refugee status or paroled into the country each year will probably be higher than under the Obama administration, but it will remain in the low thousands.

In short, restarting the CAM program will save a number of youths from danger in Central America. This is laudable, but it certainly won’t be enough to stop tens of thousands of Central Americans from fleeing north to escape intolerable conditions at home.

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