As gang-related violence escalates in Central American countries, many are attempting to flee to the safety of the U.S., including thousands of children. U.S. Customs and Border Control found that over 60,000 unaccompanied minor children were apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2014 alone. Most of those children were from El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala, which are collectively referred to as the Northern Triangle. As asylum due to gang-related violence is nearly impossible to obtain, parents are turning to dangerous measures to transport their children to the U.S.

The U.S. government created the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program (CAM program) in 2014 to provide an alternative to qualified parents who feared for the safety of their children in the Northern Triangle. A qualified parent is an individual who is at least 18 years old and is already lawfully present in the U.S. under one of the following statuses: Permanent Resident Status, Temporary Protected Status, Parolee, Deferred Action, Deferred Enforced Departure, or Withholding of Removal.

A child can qualify for the CAM program if they are (1) from one of the Northern Triangle countries; (2) under the age of 21; (3) the legal, step, or adoptive child of the qualifying parent; (4) unmarried; and (5) living in his or her country of nationality. Sometimes, family members of a qualified child can gain derivative status, specifically unmarried children of the qualifying child and a parent living in their home country who are under the age of 21.

Additionally, the parent of the qualifying child who is not considered the qualifying parent can also be included in the CAM program if they meet the following three requirements: (1) he/she is part of the same household as the qualifying child, (2) he/she is legally married to the qualifying parent when the qualifying parent files the CAM – Affidavit of Relationship, and (3) he/she is still legally married to the qualifying parent at the time of admission or parole to the U.S.

To begin the process of applying for admission to the CAM program, the qualifying parent must file a DS-7699 form, or an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR). The only way to obtain or complete an AOR is through a designated resettlement agent. The Department of State’s website (http://www.wrapsnet.org/CAMProgram/tabid/420/Default.aspx) contains a current list of resettlement agencies. The application process for the CAM program is free of charge, so applicants should be wary of individuals or agencies that purport to charge a fee.

Unfortunately, the CAM program has faced harsh criticism. Although the program began accepting applicants on December 1, 2014, only 2,884 children had entered the U.S. through the CAM program as of July 2016. On July 26, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced its plans to expand the CAM program. The U.S. will enter into a protection transfer agreement with Costa Rica, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

With the help of the UNHCR and the IOM, the U.S. will pre-screen applicants before transporting those in immediate need of protection to Costa Rica for refugee processing. After being processed, these applicants will be resettled in either the U.S. or another participating country. The U.S. has also expanded the categories of applicants who can accompany a qualified child to include: (1) children of a qualifying parent who are over the age of 21, (2) the biological parent of the qualifying child who is living in the home country of the child, and (3) caregivers of the qualified child who are related to the qualifying parent.

This expansion of the CAM program has yet to be implemented, so it remains to be seen whether it will have a positive impact on the success of the program. Although it expands the program to allow more qualifying individuals, it still does not address children whose parents are not legally present in the U.S. These children also face gang-related violence in their countries, but have little chance of obtaining asylum in the U.S.

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