President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday broadened the range of legal guardians who can apply to care for migrant children, in a new step to address an influx of young Central Americans seeking safety in the United States.
The so-called Central American Minors program was set up by Biden in 2014 when he was vice president to allow parents legally in the United States to claim children who came alone, helping them resettle with the benefit of family.
Former president Donald Trump, who ran on strident attacks on immigration, terminated the program but it was restored shortly after Biden returned to the White House.
In an expansion, the administration said that legal guardians in addition to parents will be able to apply. It also broadened eligibility to include guardians whose legal status is pending, including parents who themselves have filed asylum claims and are awaiting decisions.
“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,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, who is visiting Mexico, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a joint statement.
“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,” they said.
The State Department has identified 3,162 cases of children who could benefit from the expanded guidelines, spokeswoman Jalina Porter said.
The changes come as Biden’s Republican rivals seize on the presence of migrant children as a major political issue, alleging that his more welcoming attitude triggered an influx.
The Biden administration has also been hit by criticism from liberals and humanitarians angered that the United States is still deporting Central Americans who are fleeing rampant violence, dire poverty and the aftermath of natural disasters.
Vice President Kamala Harris on a trip earlier this month to Mexico and Guatemala said bluntly that migrants should not come.
The Central American Minors program allows unmarried Guatemalans, Honduras and Salvadorans under age 21 to apply for refugee status or, if denied, a temporary status that does not lead to citizenship.