White House reinstates program allowing some Central American minors to seek to reunite with parents in U.S.

Children play as families of asylum seekers wait outside the El Chaparral border crossing port as they wait to cross into the United States in Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico on February 19, 2021.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s administration is reinstating an Obama-era program that would allow some Central American children to seek to legally enter the U.S. from their home countries, the State Department announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration faces an influx of unaccompanied migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggests 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,” Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s coordinator for the southern border, said at a press briefing Wednesday.

“The border is not open. Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection while we continue to enforce our laws,” Jacobson said.

Established in 2014 under President Barack Obama, the Central American Minors Program would allow certain minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to reunite with a parent or parents lawfully in the U.S.

The State Department said it will first process applications that were closed when President Donald Trump’s administration terminated the program in 2017, and then begin accepting new applications.

More than 3,200 unaccompanied migrant children are being housed in Customs and Border Protection holding facilities, NBC News reported Tuesday. Nearly half of the children have been held in CBP holding cells beyond the three-day legal limit.

About 9,000 unaccompanied migrant children crossed the border in February overall, according to government data reviewed by NBC News.

“The numbers are significant. The challenge is significant, and our plans are well underway as we build the capacity to address the needs of the children, and we are rebuilding from scratch,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told NBC News in an interview that aired last weekend.

Mayorkas, Biden’s domestic policy advisor Susan Rice and other administration officials visited the U.S. border with Mexico on Saturday, the White House said in a statement Sunday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is set to lead a group of Republican members on a visit to Texas to assess the influx of migrants at the southern border, Axios reported Tuesday.

The planned visit comes after McCarthy sent a letter to Biden last Friday requesting a meeting to discuss the situation.

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