The Central American Minors (CAM) program was implemented last year to help children flee crime, gang violence, and sexual assault in their home countries and rejoin their parents who have made it to the United States.
Since the program began accepting applications on December 1st, 2014, no children have entered the US through the program, The New York Times reports.
The need for such a program became apparent, when in the summer of 2014, tens of thousands of Central American children flooded across the United States-Mexico border. The exodus started an immigration crisis that led to the Obama Administration’s instatement of CAM.
The program’s stated goal is to provide “a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.” Bureaucratic delays have hindered the process in many ways.
Over 5,400 children have applied, but only 90 have been interviewed. Of those 90, 10 have qualified for refugee status but are still waiting for their paperwork to be processed.
Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary of the US refugee bureau, told The New York Times that the program’s first children were expected to arrive in the US in the coming weeks, and that preparations were being made for up to 420 more interviews with children this month. The State Department added that majority of its applications for the program have come in the past four months.
The process for a child to enter the US through the CAM process is lengthy and complicated.
Here are the basics:
- First, a parent legally in the US must submit a form through Department of State-funded resettlement agencies.
- Then the minor in Central America is interviewed by a “Resettlement Support Center.”
- After that, both the parent in the US and the minor abroad must have DNA samples taken and sent to an AABB lab. The parent must pay for the lab work and is only reimbursed if the two are a DNA match.
- The minor is then interviewed again, this time by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. From there, the child can be approved for refugee status, parole status, or denied entirely.
- Even after being accepted, there are medical exams, home studies, and sponsorships to grapple with. There are agencies to assist, but it is on the parolees to pay for their own medical exams and book and pay for their own travel, “through a USCIS approved process.”
The parole status allows the children to enter the US for two years, and continuing applying for renewal every two years if citizenship is not possible
Of the 90 children interviewed so far, 75 have been recommended for parole status, according to The New York Times. Rejected applicants may reapply within 90 days.
For an idea of how complicated this whole process is, take a look at the “Admissions Program Flowchart”:
The Refugee Processing Center indicated in an FAQ dated January 2015 that the resettlement process takes “9-12 months on average,” but warns that this is only an estimate for the new program.
The New York Times reported that in the year ending on September 30th, nearly 40,000 unaccompanied minors have attempted to cross the US-Mexican border by way of the dangerous journeys that the CAM program is designed to stop.
Officials of the program said that it was important not to mistakenly grant anyone entry, so as not to feed the program’s political opponents. Politicians harsh on illegal immigration have in the past made examples of individual incidents in order to bolster their cause.
The State Department’s press release was clear that the program would not allow for the proliferation of undocumented immigrants:
The refugee/parole program will not be a pathway for undocumented parents to bring their children to the United States. Instead, the program will provide certain vulnerable, at-risk children with an opportunity to be reunited with parents lawfully present in the United States.
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