Accessibility links

Breaking News

Biden Administration Seeks to Expand Central American Minors Program


Marcos Silva and his daughter Rosemary Silva Pimentel reunite in the U.S. after almost 20 years separated. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Silva Pimentel)

Rosemary Pimentel is from El Salvador. Almost 20 years ago, her husband, Marcos Silva, left for the U.S., leaving Rosemary and their 6-year-old daughter behind.

But Pimentel always believed her family would be together again.

“Always. Always. I never lost hope,” she said in Spanish.

In 2015, Silva, who lives legally in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), heard of a program that could allow him to bring Pimentel and their daughter to the U.S. legally.

That program is the Central American Minors Program (CAM).

CAM, created under the Obama administration, allows certain parents and legal guardians who are already lawfully in the U.S. to legally bring in their minor children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras through the Refugee Admissions Program. They may apply to bring certain other relatives to the U.S. as well.

“My husband applied for me and my daughter,” Pimentel said, “and they (U.S. officials) called us and told us to travel to San Salvador.”

About 1,500 children were able to come to the U.S. during the Obama administration. In 2017, the Trump administration ended the program as part of the former president’s efforts to tighten immigration controls.

The Biden-Harris administration reinstituted it with expanded eligibility in 2021, which U.S. officials said was part of their regional migration management strategy.

This year, a coalition of 15 Republican-led states sued the federal government to end the program. In court documents, they argue that the program was not authorized by Congress and that CAM recipients “injure” the states because they must provide the children education and health care.

However, under the Immigration Nationality Act, the president has the authority to designate countries whose nationals may be processed for refugee status within their respective countries.

In March immigration advocates from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) filed a motion to join the case as defendants representing the families that are expected to benefit from CAM. A hearing has not been scheduled in the case.

After 20 years, Rosemary Pimentel and Marcos Silva reunite in the U.S. The couple was separated when Silva immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Silva Pimentel)
After 20 years, Rosemary Pimentel and Marcos Silva reunite in the U.S. The couple was separated when Silva immigrated to the United States from El Salvador. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Silva Pimentel)

Reuniting families

The intent of CAM, said Linda Evarts, an attorney with IRAP, has always been to reunite children with their parents in the U.S.

“And to do so, the family is processed in Central America. All the processing happens there and then when they finally are able to get on a plane, they can make that safe journey here to where their parents live in the United States,” she said.

Essey Workie, director at Migration Policy Institute Human Services Initiative, told VOA there are some benefits and challenges under the CAM program.

“... Beneficiaries were able to reunite with family members and they did not have to endure the traumatic journey. … And secondly, it's helping to circumvent the informal systems that have developed over time to facilitate the journey to the U.S., and by that I mean the smugglers or, as others may call them, coyotes, that family members pay to have children escorted through that journey,” she said.

But there are still concerns around child safety, she said. The children remain in their home country through the approval process, which can take up to a year. Armed conflict, gang violence, food insecurity, and environmental damage are just some of the challenges people face in Central America. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimate a growing number of people are forced to leave their homes and more than 470,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Who is eligible?

To be considered, a parent must be in the United States legally, which could include: Lawful permanent resident status (also known as green card holders); Temporary Protected Status (TPS); or humanitarian parole, among others. These statuses protect an individual from deportation and give them authorization to legally work in the U.S.

The child must be unmarried, younger than 21, a national of one of the three countries and the biological, adopted or stepchild of the qualified parent. In June 2021, CAM was expanded to include legal guardians as applicants in certain circumstances.

According to MPI’s analyses from December 2021, through March 2017, about 12,000 cases were submitted; most of the applicants were TPS holders and 86% of them were from El Salvador.

Of the 6,300 applicants that received a final decision through March 2017, 29% received refugee status, 70% were granted parole, and 1% were denied.

By the time the program was terminated in August 2017, only 1,627 children and other family members had entered the United States as refugees and 1,465 as parolees. The rest could not get travel authorization once the Trump administration shut down the program.

Father and daughter embrace at a Washington, D.C., airport in June 2017 after almost 20 separated. The last time Rosemary Silva Pimentel saw her dad she was six-years-old. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Silva Pimentel)
Father and daughter embrace at a Washington, D.C., airport in June 2017 after almost 20 separated. The last time Rosemary Silva Pimentel saw her dad she was six-years-old. (Photo courtesy Rosemary Silva Pimentel)

Pimentel in limbo

After the termination of the program in 2017, Pimentel’s case stalled, but she held on to two things.

“Communication and hope. Hope that I would be together with my husband and daughter. … I never lost hope,” she said.

Only her daughter, Rosemary Silva Pimentel, was allowed to travel under refugee status to the U.S.

Immigration advocates sued the Trump administration to challenge the abrupt termination of the program. The court said the U.S. government had to reopen applications for children and family members in the final stages of the process to legally resettle in the U.S. as refugees and parolees.

“We achieved a settlement in that case and as a result of that settlement approximately 1,600 people have already come to the United States as CAM parolees and additional people are still in processing right now,” Evarts said.

In 2020, Pimentel was able to reunite with her family. At the airport, the first person Rosemary saw was her daughter.

“And then my husband, too. He was with my daughter. And it was so emotional. I was so happy because we were together again. The most important to me was my daughter in the U.S. … But, thank God, we’re here. And we’re fine,” she said.

The Biden administration has reopened the CAM program to new applicants. But with a legal battle still underway, the future of the program is still uncertain.

XS
SM
MD
LG