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Advocates applaud reopening of program that allows Central American kids to rejoin parents in U.S.

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The Biden administration has officially reopened an Obama administration-era program that allows children in Central America to be able to reunite with parents who are already in the U.S. and have legal status. CBS News reports that the administration is accepting applications as of Tuesday. "’Tens of thousands’ of parents residing in the U.S. could benefit from the program's full reinstatement,” the report said.

In a joint statement, the State and Homeland Security departments said they were “firmly committed to welcoming people to the United States with humanity and respect, and reuniting families.” They noted that “[t]hroughout August, resettlement support center partners were trained to support families during the process.”

The Biden administration announced in March that it was reopening the Central American Minors (CAM) program, which had been created by the Obama administration but was then terminated by the next administration in 2017 as part of its anti-asylum (and anti-Obama) crusade. The most vulnerable were left to pay the price for this political decision, when thousands of children who had already been approved were left stranded following the termination.

In announcing CAM’s reimplementation this past spring, the Biden administration said it would be prioritizing these children, as well as expanding program eligibility to cover more families. The administration’s joint statement said it has “continued to reopen cases that were closed when CAM was terminated in 2018 and have expanded eligibility of those able to petition for their children’s access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Today, we are proud to announce that the CAM application has been approved.”

“In June, the Biden administration expanded eligibility for the CAM program, allowing parents to petition for their children if they have pending applications for asylum or U visas, which are reserved for victims of serious crimes,” CBS News reports. “Green card holders, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries and others with temporary legal status in the U.S. can also apply.”

Advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) called CAM’s reopening a great move forward, saying in a statement received by Daily Kos that the organization “is pleased that the administration is expanding eligibility to children who have parents and legal guardians who are in the process of applying for asylum or other protection. But for CAM to protect the largest number of children in danger, eligibility should be expanded further to allow children who have other loving family members to care for them. That would not only be in the best interests of these children, but would also help alleviate pressure at the border.”

KIND also urged the administration to expedite processing times, which can span months. This is time many vulnerable children don’t have to spare. “In the meantime, the administration must create emergency evacuation mechanisms for children in imminent danger who cannot safely wait in their communities or countries while their cases are processed.”

In a move also applauded by KIND earlier this year, the Biden administration issued a memorandum expanding legal access for unaccompanied children fleeing to the U.S. “Lawyers are vital to ensuring that children can access the program effectively, understand the process, and succeed with their refugee status claims or otherwise pursue a path to permanency in the United States,” KIND President Wendy Young said.

The Biden administration announced it was reinstating CAM as the number of children arriving to the U.S. without parents had been increasing. “We have long argued that one of the keys to managing migration and our borders is to provide expanded legal pathways to those fleeing Central America,” America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said following CAM’s official reopening. He said the program “offers a safe, expeditious and orderly way for young people to seek safety and apply for reunification with loved ones from the region. After vetting and approval, these young people will board airplanes and join family in America. This provides an alternative route to protection.”

CBS News reports that the Biden administration currently has over 18,900 unaccompanied children into custody. Roughly 100 are Afghan refugees who arrived without a parent (though its unclear if that means they arrived completely alone). KIND has also issued guidance on protecting these vulnerable children.

”Afghan children and families arriving in the United States have experienced extreme trauma in their flight from harm. Humanitarian reception and response is imperative,” the guidance said. “This includes providing critical support services in the immediate term and throughout the resettlement or reunification process. To that end, we urge the government to provide all families, including children, with immediate access to legal representation and social services to ensure legal protection, provide assistance in processing trauma, and help children and families as they rebuild their lives outside of Afghanistan.”
 
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