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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Coming to America

Q: Is President Obama flying children from Central America to the U.S.?
A: Yes. An administration program allows certain immigrant parents lawfully in the U.S. to bring their children to the country as refugees or parolees.


Is President Obama flying illegals free from Central America to the U.S.A. or is this just another unfounded rumor?


No, this isn’t a completely “unfounded rumor,” as one reader wondered.

Vice President Joe Biden announced the newly established Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program in November 2014, and the administration began accepting applications for the program at the beginning of December. It’s an extension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program that has existed since 1980.

But we have received emails from readers that contain some false and exaggerated claims about the program — specifically claims that it would result in “millions” coming to America and that these foreign children will be traveling at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

About the CAM Program

The program, jointly run by the Departments of State and Homeland Security, allows qualified immigrant parents legally living in the U.S. to request that their children in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras, be brought to the U.S. as refugees.

Officials with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will conduct interviews to determine if the children qualify for refugee status. That is, “they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group” in their home country, according to the USCIS. Those who don’t qualify as refugees, but are “at risk of harm” back home, could still be considered for parole, which would allow individuals to come to the U.S. on a temporary basis for humanitarian reasons.

The policy followed a huge spike in the number of unaccompanied immigrant children who illegally crossed the U.S. border during the summer of 2014. Administration officials say this process will provide “a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are currently undertaking to the United States.”

The program doesn’t provide free travel to the U.S., however.

Travel arrangements for refugees will be handled by the International Organization for Migration. Funding for the flights will be provided by the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Migration and Refugees. But “the parent of the child will sign a promissory note agreeing to repay the cost of travel to the United States,” according to a State Department fact sheet about the program. However, the document states that “an individual authorized parole will not be eligible for a travel loan but must book and pay for the flight to the United States.”

A qualifying parent living in the U.S. must initiate the application for refugee resettlement. The child a parent seeks to relocate must be under the age of 21; unmarried; a national of El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras; and living in his or her native country.

In some cases, children of a qualifying child could also be brought to the U.S., as could a parent living in the same household as the qualifying child, so long as the parent is legally married to the qualifying parent in the U.S. at the time the petition is filed and remains married to them.

A qualifying parent is at least 18 years old and lives in the U.S. as one of the following:

  • Permanent Resident Status, or
  • Temporary Protected Status, or
  • Parolee, or
  • Deferred Action
  • Deferred Enforced Departure, or
  • Withholding of Removal

Parents and children must also undergo DNA testing to prove a biological relationship. The tests are to be paid for by the U.S. parent. If the results confirm relation, the parent could be reimbursed in full, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Certain medical clearances will also be necessary, but children and parents considered for admission on parole are responsible for obtaining and paying for their own.

Also, unlike those admitted as refugees, parolees, the State Department says, are not immediately eligible for medical and other federal benefits — beyond school and work authorization — upon arriving in the U.S. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, after five years in the U.S., parolees may be eligible for benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Parents of children admitted to the U.S. as parolees through the minors program are required to submit an I-134 Affidavit of Support. The affidavit affirms that the parent agrees to financially support the child while he or she is in the country. Parents of children admitted as refugees aren’t required to sign the form.

Plus, parolees won’t be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Refugees are required to apply for a green card, or legal permanent residency, after a year. And after five years, they can apply to become U.S. citizens. Parolees will generally only be admitted to the U.S. for a two-year period. After that time, they can reapply for parole, again, on a temporary basis.

How Many Can Come to the U.S.?

One reader asked about this claim from a commentary piece published on the conservative WorldNetDaily website:

WorldNetDaily, April 7: The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security in their infinite wisdom have just decided that there is the potential for millions of currently illegal and formerly illegal immigrants to fly their children to the United States on the taxpayer’s dime where they will also be in this country illegally.

Again, only parents lawfully in the U.S. can make a request for their child. And the State Department actually says it expects “a relatively small number” of admissions under the new program in 2015. That’s partly because children or parents admitted as refugees will be included in the Refugee Admissions Program’s annual Latin America/Caribbean regional allocation, which is capped at 4,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30. That is 1,000 fewer than was authorized for fiscal year 2014.

But there is no cap on the number who can be admitted on parole in a year, and even the State Department says “there is some flexibility within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to accommodate a higher than anticipated number from Latin America in FY 2015.”

Yet, as of April 23, officials had received just 565 applications for the minors program, according to congressional testimony from Simon Henshaw, principal deputy assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. And none of the applicants had been interviewed by an official with USCIS.

As for what could happen in the future, no one can say for sure. The caps for the Refugee Admissions Program are reevaluated by the president and Congress each year.

— D’Angelo Gore


U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. State Letter 15-01. 7 Jan 2015.

U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. In-Country Refugee/Parole Program for Minors in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras With Parents Lawfully Present in the United States. Fact sheet. 14 Nov 2014.

Langlois, Joseph. Written testimony for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and The National Interest. 23 April 2015.

Henshaw, Simon. Written testimony for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and The National Interest. 23 Apr 2015.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Southwest Border Unaccompanied Alien Children. Accessed 29 Apr 2015.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In-Country Refugee/Parole Processing for Minors in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Accessed 29 Apr 2015.

Zuniga, Ricardo. Promoting Prosperity and Security in Central America. WhiteHouse.gov. 14 Nov 2014.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Refugees. Accessed 29 Apr 2015.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Humanitarian Parole. Accessed 29 Apr 2015.

Negroponte, Diana Villiers. “A Refugee and Parole Program for Central American Minors.” Brookings Institute. 20 Nov 2014.