Washington, DC—The Biden Administration took a significant step forward today in addressing the large numbers of children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border alone by expanding the Central American Minors (CAM) program that allows some children to seek U.S. protection from their country and avoid a dangerous journey.
“The expansion of CAM to allow asylum-seeking parents and legal guardians to apply on behalf of their children will ensure that more children in desperate need of protection in Central America will be able to access the program,” said KIND President Wendy Young. “CAM has the potential to save thousands of children from grave harm.”
For CAM to reach its fullest potential, eligibility should be expanded to allow grandparents, adults siblings, aunts and uncles, and other close family members to apply on behalf of children. Many of the children arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border eventually reunify with one of these relatives, rather than a parent. Opening the program to children with nonparent familial caretakers would help alleviate pressure at the border and create an alternative pathway to safety for children in the region.
CAM should also be broadened to include children without family in the United States, who could be processed through the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program.
“Resettlement of children should be grounded in protection, not family ties,” said Young.
KIND also urges the administration to prioritize legal counsel for children in CAM. The provision of lawyers is vital to ensure that children can access the program effectively, understand the process, succeed with claims for refugee status, and ensure a path to permanency in the United States.
Emergency evacuation mechanisms for children in imminent danger who cannot safely wait in their communities or countries during process must also be established.
Meanwhile, the administration must continue its work to address the factors that force these children to flee from their home countries through strategic foreign assistance to the region that prioritizes the needs of children and the reasons they flee. While CAM is a critical part of the response that provides a lifeline to some children, as is full access to asylum procedures for children who request protection at the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration must work to restore stability and the rule of law in the countries of the Northern Triangle.
“Until conditions in these countries improve, children and families will continue to flee in search of safety,” said Young. “The United States must put in place policies and solutions that protect children at the border and quickly move them to family and other safe, stable places while they wait for their asylum claims to be adjudicated.”
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