Biden administration expands eligibility for program to bring Central American minors to US

Biden administration expands eligibility for program to bring Central American minors to US

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it is significantly expanding eligibility for a program that brings Central American minors to the U.S. if they have parents or legal guardians here already – part of the effort by the administration to tackle the migrant surge at the southern border.

“Proud to work with [Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas] on our responsible, phased approach to reinstitute and improve the Central American Minors [CAM] program,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted. “The second phase of its reopening will expand access for U.S.-based individuals not previously eligible to petition for their children.”

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The program, which began in the Obama administration, seeks to unite those under 21 from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador who have parents or guardians already in the country. The Trump administration abolished the program, and it was restarted by the Biden administration in March.

The first phase involved opening cases that were closed when the program was shut down. The second phase, announced Tuesday, expands eligibility to legal guardians and parents who have lawful residence or a range of other categories – including temporary protected status (TPS), parole, deferred action, deferred enforced departure or withholding of removal. It also applies to those who have a pending asylum application or a pending U visa – for those who are victims of criminal activity – petition filed before May 15, 2021.  

It’s part of a Biden administration strategy of dealing with the massive surge in migration at the southern border that has focused not on turning back and barring child migrants from entering the U.S., but instead focusing on getting them into the U.S. and processed as quickly as possible.

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While the administration has been turning back some adults and migrant families with Title 42 public health protections, it has refused to apply those to unaccompanied children. 

That move has coincided with a surge in migrants at the border, which at one point included a historic number of unaccompanied children, although that number has decreased in recent months.

The Biden administration has emptied out the once-packed Border Patrol facilities like in Donna, Texas, leading to a significant increase in the number of migrant kids in Heath and Human Services’ (HHS) custody. HHS has been paying for travel costs for migrant children to be transported to their sponsors across the country. 

The administration says it is pursuing avenues that allow safe and “orderly” migration, while also claiming the border is not open.

“We are firmly committed to welcoming people to the United States with humanity and respect, as well as providing a legal alternative to irregular migration,” a statement from Blinken and Mayorkas said Tuesday. “We are delivering on our promise to promote safe, orderly and humane migration from Central America through this expansion of legal pathways to seek humanitarian protection in the United States.”

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However, Republicans and immigration hawks have been critical of the push to open CAM. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, recently wrote to both Blinken and Mayorkas expressing concern about the plans.

“I’m worried that this effort is going to be somehow passed off as an effort to address the number of migrants at the southern border when it does nothing to stem the flow or address the crisis created by this administration,” he said in a statement. “There’s no evidence to suggest that arrivals at the southern border or illegal crossings were reduced when the Obama administration tried this years ago, so there’s no reason to think it will have that effect now.”

On Tuesday, the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR) called the move “another terrible policy decision that does nothing to stem migration from Central America or truly address the crisis they created.”

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“It is a new tool under the guise of legality to admit any Central American minor or adult without having to deal with disturbing and politically inconvenient optics,” FAIR’s head of government relations, RJ Hauman, told Fox News. “Why make the journey north when we’ll just fly you here on the taxpayer dime?”

It comes a week after Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and Guatemala and issued a stern warning for migrants not to come to the border. The vice president said she believed they would be turned back if they did.

Adam Shaw is a reporter covering U.S. and European politics for Fox News. He can be reached at adam.shaw@foxnews.com.