Biden Administration Dramatically Expands Central American Minors Program

June 17, 2021

The Biden Administration announced Tuesday that it plans to expand the Central American Minors program to allow illegal aliens who are legal guardians and illegal aliens with pending asylum applications to sponsor the immigration of their children still residing in the Northern Triangle.  The Biden Administration reinstated the Central American Minors program on March 10.  Since then, Homeland Security and the State Department have been re-opening terminated cases, but has not yet begun accepting new applications due to logistical hurdles. (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2021)

The Central American Minors program (also called CAM) was originally created by President Obama in 2014 “to provide a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.”  As first established, the program allowed alien parents who are “lawfully present” in the United States to petition the government to grant refugee status or parole to their children living in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Lawfully present includes legal permanent residents (green card holders).  It also includes illegal aliens who have received:

  • Temporary Protected Status,
  • Parole,
  • Deferred Action,
  • Deferred Enforced Departure, or
  • Withholding of Removal.

(USCIS, Central American Minors—CAM, updated Nov. 15, 2017)

In 2016, the Obama Administration expanded eligibility to participate in CAM to certain (adult) family members accompanying a qualifying child. These additional eligible family members include:

  • Sons or daughters of a lawfully-present parent who are married and/or over 21;
  • The in-country biological parent of the qualifying child; and
  • Caregiver of a qualifying child who is either related to the lawfully-present parent or child.

(USCIS, Central American Minors—CAM, updated Nov. 15, 2017) 

Now, the Biden Administration will expand eligibility to include legal guardians who are in the U.S. and fall under the same categories: lawful permanent residence; temporary protected status; parole; deferred action; deferred enforced departure; or withholding of removal.  The Biden Administration will also expand eligibility to illegal alien parents or legal guardians who have a pending asylum or U visa application filed before May 15, 2021.  This includes the surge of illegal aliens who have entered the U.S. and claimed asylum since President Biden was inaugurated.

According to a State Department spokeswoman, these changes could make tens of thousands of additional minors eligible for relocation to the United States.  (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2021) "We are firmly committed to welcoming people to the United States with humanity and respect, as well as providing a legal alternative to irregular migration," said the spokeswoman. "We are delivering on our promise to promote safe, orderly, and humane migration from Central America through this expansion of legal pathways to seek humanitarian protection in the United States." (NBC News, June 15, 2021)

Advocates had been pushing the Biden Administration to expand eligibility for CAM, which, under the Obama Administration, had re-located only a small number of Central Americans to the U.S.  Before the program was terminated, 1,450 children entered the U.S. under humanitarian parole, and another 2,700 had been conditionally approved, according to USCIS. (Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2021)

But the expansion of eligibility for CAM only makes the legality of the program more questionable—particularly with respect to the use of parole as a means of bringing family members into the U.S.  From every angle, the program appears to be nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the Congressionally created statutory scheme for family migration, which only allows citizens and legal permanent residents (green card holders) – not illegal aliens -- to petition to bring in their children or adult relatives from outside the U.S.  (See INA 201; 203(a)

Advocates will argue that using parole to bring the children of illegal aliens from Central America into the U.S. does not contradict family immigration laws because these beneficiaries will not receive a green card or other legal status.  But as we have seen with DACA, there is no meaningful distinction.  (See Texas v. United States, 809 F.3d 134, 186 (2015))  As DACA uses deferred action to circumvent immigration law, CAM uses humanitarian parole in the same manner.  By statute, humanitarian parole may only be used to allow an alien to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit” and must be granted only a case-by-case basis. (INA 212(d)(5))  It is not intended to be used as the centerpiece of a program that allows the family members of illegal aliens to enter the U.S. en masse for two years at a time, with indefinite renewals, authorizing them to obtain work permits and taxpayer-funded benefits.

Not surprisingly, senior members of Congress are beginning to question the Biden’s Administration’s actions.  A week ago, Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley (R-IA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressing doubts about the legality and efficacy of CAM.  “I’m worried that this effort is going to be somehow passed off as an effort to address the number of migrants at the southern border when it does nothing to stem the flow or address the crisis created by this administration. There’s no evidence to suggest that arrivals at the southern border or illegal crossings were reduced when the Obama administration tried this years ago, so there’s no reason to think it will have that effect now,” Grassley said. “Congress made clear that parole can only be granted on an individual, case-by-case basis in very limited situations, and not be used as a back door into the United States for certain groups and classes of people who don’t qualify for existing types of visas.” (Grassley press release, June 10, 2021)

The next step in the process will be for the State Department and Department of Homeland Security to start accepting applications for CAM.  In the meantime, advocates are hailing President Biden’s actions, but are already pushing it to expand eligibility for the program to allow extended family members to also sponsor relatives in the Northern Triangle. (Voice of America, June 15, 2021)