The Central American Minors (CAM) program was initiated by the Department of State in December 2014 to provide a legal avenue for the reunification of parents possessing specified immigration status in the US with their children who remain in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. In these countries the unchecked proliferation of gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 has created a public safety crisis. Citizens face intimidation and death threats on a normal basis and these areas constitute some of the world’s highest murder rates per capita.
Since the US government introduced the program, the African Community Center-DC (ACC-DC) office alone has submitted over 100 CAM applications and is currently interviewing about five to ten new applicants each week. The entire process takes anywhere from one to two years to complete. Though the turnaround time is relatively quick when compared with other refugee resettlement programs, the wait is dangerous for the minors who are without protection while their paperwork is pending.
This past July, ACC-DC staff welcomed their first CAM minor at Reagan National Airport. The minor’s arrival marked the first time in four years that he and his mother had seen each other in person and it was an extremely heartwarming reunion. Having been granted refugee status, the minor will now receive an array of resettlement benefits and is automatically placed on the path to becoming an American citizen. It was news that brought tears to his mother’s eyes.
Many local resettlement agencies have become overbooked with new applicants. The number of people interested in applying simply exceeds the processing capacity of most organizations. Additional government funding would most likely be needed to sufficiently respond to the current demand. ECDC’s resettlement network has done its best to meet with every qualified applicant, including those referred over by other resettlement agencies, and is eager to assist these parents in reuniting with their loved ones.
On July 26th, the White House announced plans to allow CAM applicants to petition for additional family members who have a relationship with the qualifying minor including siblings over the age of 21, the child’s other biological parent and relatives acting as the child’s guardian. Costa Rica is also helping to improve Central American refugee processing by temporarily hosting up to 200 vulnerable individuals with pending CAM applications for a period of six months.
- A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez.
- The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail by Oscar Martinez.