President Biden announced a significant expansion of an immigration program that allows migrant children to be legally admitted to the U.S. as part of the administration's larger agenda to increase the number of "legal pathways" into America.
According to The Los Angeles Times, which spoke with various officials about the development, the program's expansion could help reunite many Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran children with their families.
During the Trump administration's family separation policy, which was presented as a "zero tolerance" stance on illegal immigration, thousands of migrant children were taken away from their families and deported back to their countries of origin. In 2018, Trump formally shuttered the Central American Minors Program, an Obama-era rule that allowed legal immigrants residing in the U.S. to petition for their children to live with them. President Biden reinstated the Obama-era policy back in March, with pending cases now at 1,100. "We see this as righting a wrong," a Biden official told the Times. The Central American Minors Program is specifically designed to handle cases involving child migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Tuesday's announcement greatly increases the number of children eligible to receive entry into the U.S. by expanding the set of criteria for which petitioners can qualify. For example, parents and legal guardians whose residency status is up in the air (i.e. asylum-seekers or visa-applicants) can now apply to be reunited with their children. Migrant children can now also qualify for the U.S. Refugees Admissions Program, a program that provides refugees – not just from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras – with basic necessities for living and dependable employment to create a stable pathway for citizenship, according to an official that spoke with the Times.
"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," the Biden administration said in a statement.
"This is a necessary but insufficient step to advance equality that is currently being deprived of Central Americans both here and abroad," said Pablo Alvarado, co-executive director of The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, on Tuesday. "We urge President Biden to do much more to ensure Central American migrants are treated with the respect we deserve."
While the development is likely to be met with similar applause from immigration rights advocates, the Biden administration has nonetheless come under fire for maintaining several Trump-era immigration policies. For instance, Title 42, which allows border agents to unconditionally turn away migrants for public health reasons amid the pandemic, is still being enforced.
Back in March, Biden personally tasked Vice President Kamala Harris to coordinate America's immigration efforts at the southern border amid growing pressure to address a recent uptick in child migration. Harris made her first trip to Guatemala last week, where she urged the country's residents to remain there, saying: "Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders."