In another move to unravel the immigration policies of its predecessor, the Biden administration said it is restarting an Obama-era immigration program to reunite children from some Central American nations with their parents who are legally in the United States.
The State Department announced the resumption of the Central American Minors program in a statement on Wednesday, saying it was directed by President Joe Biden who has repeatedly instituted policies to turn back the Trump administration’s immigration stance since being inaugurated in January.
“Together with other efforts across the U.S. government, reopening the CAM program is an important step toward expanding lawful pathways for humanitarian protection and opportunity in the United States,” the department said.
Phase one of the program will seek to reunite children whose applications were shelved when it was terminated by the Trump administration in 2017.
Some 3,000 children had already been approved to travel to the United States before the program was closed, Roberta Jacobson, special assistant to the president and the coordinator for the southern border, told reporters during a White House press briefing on Wednesday.
The State Department said it anticipates to contact parents as soon as next week as its Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “have already identified all suspended cases eligible for reopening.”
The second phase of the program’s resumption will seek to accept new applications, it said.
The program’s re-start comes as the Biden administration continues to undo former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Among the changes include new guidelines to reduce arrests and deportations of those who have entered the country illegally and allowing potentially tens of thousands of migrants and refugees to wait out their immigration cases in the United States instead of in Mexico or other Latin American countries as directed by former President Donald Trump under his controversial “Remain in Mexico” plan.
Despite the Biden administration seeking to unravel its predecessors immigration policies, Jacobson was quick to warn that the border is still closed.
“Neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion,” she said. “The border is not open.”
The announcement was made amid a surge in unaccompanied migrant children being held at U.S. Border Patrol facilities.
Citing internal documents, CNN and CBS News reported earlier this week that more than 3,200 children were in CBP custody.
Jacobson told reporters that the country has experienced surges before but that she didn’t think it was a coincidence it has occurred following four years of “pent-up demand.”
“I certainly think that the idea that a more humane policy would be in place may have driven people to make that decision,” she said, adding though smugglers have also been spreading disinformation in an attempt to encourage migrants to use their services to enter the United States.
She said to reduce the numbers, the Biden administration is looking to expand eligibility so more people can legally apply to enter the country as well as working with international organizations with networks among migrant communities to counteract the smugglers’ messaging.
The Biden administration is also seeking $4 billion over the next four years to battle corruption, violence and economic devastation that have been worsened by climate change in an effort to combat the root causes of migration, she said.
“Only by addressing those root causes can we break the cycle of desperation and provide hope for families who clearly would prefer to stay in their countries and provide a better future for their children,” she said.
The resumption of the plan was welcomed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which described the program as “an expression of U.S. compassion for, and commitment to protecting, very vulnerable children.”
“It will save young lives,” Matthew Reynold, the UNHRC representative to the United States and the Caribbean, said in a statement. “This humanitarian program has a proven track record of protecting the lives of children facing life-threatening danger in parts of the north of Central America by giving them a safe and orderly way to be reunited with their parents legally residing in the United States.”
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an original implementing partner of the program, also commended the Biden administration for its action.
“The program represents our nation’s bedrock principle of family unity put into practice,” Vignarajah said in a statement. “When families are together, America thrives.”
The State Department said nearly 5,000 children had been reunified with their families under CAM before it was scrapped.
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