Biden brings back program to help legal immigrants in NC reunite families

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some documented immigrants living in North Carolina can now petition for their minor children to join them in the United States thanks to the Biden administration's reopening a program previously closed by President Donald Trump.

The Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee and Parole program is an opportunity specific to children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to join their parents or legal guardians in the United States who are lawfully present in the country. That includes the petitioner's temporary protected status or for those in the U.S. with asylum cases pending. It also includes permanent residents, those on parole or considered "deferred action".

"It would mean the world to me," Jessica Jimenez, a Honduran immigrant living in Chatham County, told ABC11 of her new petition for her daughter. "Holidays, Holy Week, Christmas -- I miss those moments, but for Gd* there's nothing impossible and I would love for this to happen."

Jimenez said she came to North Carolina with her two younger children to flee an abusive relationship and domestic violence.

"I left behind a good life and a good job," she said. "I graduated from a school in Honduras with a degree in fashion design. But if I didn't make this decision, my kids would lose their mom. I made the decision quickly and left in the middle of the night after people came to my home to threaten me."

Jimenez is considered a documented immigrant because of a pending asylum case; after finding work at a poultry plant, she has since found success and stability as a chef in a popular food truck.

"I've made a life here and found success, but it's so difficult," she said.

The Central American Minors program originated in 2014 under President Barack Obama. In 2017, President Trump suspended the program.

As the situation at the Southern Border deteriorated, however, the Biden administration announced a series of measures as part of a "comprehensive regional migration management strategy," which included restarting CAM.

"That's the whole purpose - you stay where you are," Omer A. Omer, community development specialist at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants field office in Raleigh, said. "You don't get yourself in danger, don't get yourself killed, trafficked or sexually abused on your way to the United States. It's good for everybody, and definitely good for the U.S. to stop the immigrant people coming to the border and in this difficult situation of camps waiting to come into the States."

The Central American Minors program, however, may not be as good for the U.S. as the nation still struggles with decades of inaction on immigration policy.

An earlier I-Team investigation found 13,000 immigrants in North Carolina with Temporary Protected Status, including many whose "temporary" stay in the U.S. is almost 20 years. There have been many countries where the federal government did in fact end TPS, including Kuwait (1992), Rwanda (1997) and Sierra Leone (2017). El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, however, continue to have their TPS designation renewed, despite attempts by the Trump Administration to end the protections.

"We cannot be everything for everybody," Rep. Greg Murphy (R-North Carolina) said. "What about the health care, all the other resources they use. Where does that money come from? (CAM) is a wonderful thing emotionally, but you have to look at the secondary, tertiary, coronary consequences of those actions and right now they're devastating."

The Central American Minors vetting process, according to the State Department, is a thorough one, including several interviews and DNA testing to verify the relationship between the child and parent, if a biological parent is the petitioner. The process could also take several months, if not years, as the immigration system continues to face an unprecedented backlog of cases.

*In this story, the name of the Lord is spelled incompletely to honor the religious practices of the reporter. You can learn more here.
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