President Joe Biden moved to help children fleeing violence in Central America on Wednesday even as he grappled with a surge of migrants at the US southern border that is taxing resources and exposing him to bipartisan criticism.
White House border coordinator Roberta Jacobson told reporters the Biden administration is restarting the Central American Minors (CAM) program for children, which between 2014 and 2017 allowed children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to settle in the United States.
Former President Donald Trump ended the program in 2017. It had allowed children under 21 years old with parents lawfully living in the United States to apply for a refugee resettlement interview before making the journey to the United States.
The move was the latest step taken by Biden as he tries to create a more humane situation along the border with Mexico.
Mixed messaging by the Biden White House, however, is leading to criticism from Republicans that he is encouraging migrants to make the dangerous journey to try to reach sanctuary in the United States. Democrats complain that Biden is not moving fast enough to release children from Border Patrol custody.
US officials are urging people not to try to cross the border, warning they will be sent back, but also stressing that unaccompanied children will be given shelter and care while their cases are processed.
“The border is not open,” said Jacobson, switching to Spanish on a number of occasions during a White House briefing to stress the point.
But that message is not sinking in.
US border agents detained nearly 100,000 migrants at the US-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since a major border surge in mid-2019.
Jacobson blamed migrant smugglers for the surge.
“We are trying to send both messages, and smugglers are trying to send only one message,” she said.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said members of Biden’s immigration team briefed him on a border visit they had and that they discussed how to speed up the processing of migrant children.
A State Department spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday that the administration is set to resume processing CAM applications, starting with children whose cases were suspended under Trump and then opening up to new applicants.
The Department plans to reach out to parents starting as soon as March 15, the spokesperson said. To date, the program has reunified almost 5,000 children with their parents.