Biden Admin Expands Program to Allow More Young Migrants to Stay in US In this May 17, 2021 file photo, a group of migrants wait along a road after turning themselves in upon crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, in La Joya, Texas. (Gregory Bull/AP)
By Charlie McCarthy | Wednesday, 16 June 2021 09:01 AM
The Biden administration is expanding a program created to allow children and teenagers from Central America to enter the U.S. legally as it struggles to deal with the immigration crisis at the southern border, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The Central American Minors (CAM) program's enlargement could make tens of thousands of children newly eligible to participate in the program, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said, according to the WSJ on Tuesday.
Children will be eligible if they have either a legal guardian in the U.S. or a parent who is waiting to have a visa application or an asylum case decided. Previously, young migrants needed to have one parent living legally in the country.
"The Central American Minors program is a continuation of President [Joe] Biden’s open borders policies to allow anyone in the world to come to the United States regardless of the effects on mass illegal immigration," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R., Ohio., ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee.
The CAM program, started by the Obama administration in 2014, applies to people under the age of 21 coming from the Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — that have sent a majority of asylum-seeking migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border during the past decade.
The program was established in response to the first wave of unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally.
Children could apply for refugee status or humanitarian parole, which could be subject to renewal but wouldn’t provide the applicant a legal immigration status, the WSJ said.
Former President Donald Trump, who said the program was an immigration pathway created without congressional approval, terminated the program in 2017.
President Biden restarted the CAM program on March 10.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said that before the program was terminated, 1,450 children entered the U.S. under humanitarian parole, and another 2,700 had been conditionally approved.
The program failed to prevent another surge, in 2016, when 59,692 unaccompanied children — many who wouldn’t have qualified under the program’s criteria — crossed the border illegally, according to government data.
About 40% of the unaccompanied children who arrived this year came to reunite with a parent, according to the Biden administration. Under the new criteria, nearly all of them likely would qualify to stay.
The administration hadn’t started accepting applications to the program since the restart because of logistical challenges, Ricardo Zuniga, U.S. special envoy for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, said last week.
"There was a pretty sizable backlog, still from the gaps that were left in that period," Zuniga said, WSJ reported. "So, especially in this period where we are organizing ourselves at a time where we have our own issues related to logistics around the pandemic, there are challenges with getting ourselves up and running."
News of the program’s expansion comes a week after Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Mexico and Guatemala. Biden named Harris to lead the effort in discovering the root cause of the migrant surge.
A total of 14,158 unaccompanied minors — the third-highest number on record — were encountered crossing the border in May, down from nearly 19,000 in March.