The Trump administration’s termination of the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program is outrageous. Since 2014, this program has provided a path to safety and protection in the United States for thousands of refugee children in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. By shuttering the program, the administration blocks a lifesaving alternative for future applicants and betrays the trust of thousands of families. Prior to this decision, the government had conditionally granted parole to several thousand children who have not yet traveled to the United States. This week, the government broke its promise. By doing so, it has willfully left thousands of young people in peril.
The administration’s decision today does not directly affect the CAM refugee program, which continues to provide a possible route to safety for those who meet a narrow definition of refugee status. However, as victims of gang violence who are frequently targeted for their youth and their family ties to the United States, the U.S. government often does not recognize these children as “refugees,” even when their lives are in grave danger. The CAM parole program was established to provide an alternative form of protection in these cases. Its closure follows a pattern set by this administration of eliminating the traditional function of parole, which is to provide scope for discretion and humanity in the interpretation of the law, particularly when it affects the most vulnerable.
Last year, UUSC conducted extensive research into the CAM program in partnership with the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador (GMIES), the Center for the Protection and Investigation of Human Rights (CIPRODEH) in Honduras, and the U.S.-based Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). This investigation highlighted the dangers that drive families to apply for CAM protections and the risks children face when they apply for refugee status in their home country. Children often have to risk drawing attention from their persecutors when they apply for CAM protections. To expose these children and their families to this risk over the course of months or longer, only to revoke the hard-won approval in the final hour, is a shocking betrayal. UUSC and our partners recommended strengthening and expanding the CAM program. This administration is doing just the opposite.
In addition to leaving innocent and vulnerable people at risk, the administration has also caused irreparable damage to the word and dignity of the U.S. government, and of the many civil society actors, resettlement agencies, and officials who worked in good faith to make CAM a safe and accessible path to safety. President Trump has again revealed his contempt for international norms of human rights and for the lives that so often depend upon them.