The Central American Minor (CAM) was* a short-lived and well-meaning program. In 2014, over 50,000 children fled Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They were fleeing horrific gang violence, poverty and – in many cases – they were coming to see parents who had moved to the U.S. years earlier. To discourage the incredibly dangerous journey, the Obama Administration created CAM. If a parent was in the U.S. with certain types of status or pending applications, they could file for their child to participate in CAM. If CAM was approved, the child could come to the United States as a refugee or parolee.
From 2014 to 2017, over 10,000 applications were filed, but only about 3,000 children were able to use the program to enter the United States.** In 2017, President Trump ended the program. Not only did he end it for children waiting their turn to come into the country, but he also ended the program for anyone already in the United States, meaning they either had to return back to their home country or risk being in the United States without status.
This is how I met Cesar, a 19-year old from Honduras, in 2018. He was one of the lucky few who had been approved for CAM and made it to safety in the United States. He entered in 2016 and his status was set to expire in just a few months. Since the Trump Administration ended the program, though, what were his options? He loved his life in the United States. He had a bed. He had multiple meals every day. He was safe. Going back seemed impossible – would the gangs he escaped target him for his perceived wealth after spending time in the United States?
Cesar asked me about getting married to his sweetheart, Daisy. Daisy was born in the United States and she was 18 years old. They were so young – How could they be thinking about getting married?! In truth, they were both way more mature than I was a their ages. Like I do with all couples, I asked about their story – how did they meet? What do they like doing together? What are their shared hopes for the future? Even though they were young, it was clear that they loved one another. We talked about what the process would look like – the timing, the fees, the possible outcomes. They left my office, saying they had a lot to think about.
About a year later, Cesar and Daisy emailed me and said they were ready. They had gotten married, were living together, and wanted to get started on Cesar’s green card application. There were some delays with COVID, but finally, in May 2022, I went with Cesar and Daisy to their green card interview. Cesar was so nervous – he was going to do the interview in English (which was so impressive considering that he didn’t speak more than a few words in 2018). He and Daisy were organized with their documents – pictures were labeled, bills were put in chronological order, letters of support were tabbed. They did an amazing job at the interview. The officer commented on their young ages, but she did so with a smile on her face. Their case was approved on the spot.
When we left USCIS, the first thing Cesar asked me was “how can I help my dad?” His dad, who was able to bring him here with CAM because he had Temporary Protected Status, now had a “lesser” status then Cesar. When Cesar becomes a U.S. citizen in about three years, he can start the process of helping his dad have security and safety in the United States, just like his father did for him in 2016. I loved how Cesar’s concern wasn’t about celebrating his immigration status for himself, but how he could use it to help his father who had done so much for him.
Cesar and Daisy have a bright future ahead of them. Cesar’s life is drastically different because of CAM and I hope that many more children will be able to use the program to build a foundation for their own bright and safe futures.
* In September 2021, the CAM program was restarted.
**This data comes from the National Immigration Forum.