June 15 (UPI) -- The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it is expanding eligibility to a recently restarted program that seeks to legally bring children from some South American Nations into the United States.
The Departments of State and Homeland Security announced the expansion of the Central American Minors Program months after the Biden administration restarted the Obama-era immigration plan in March with phase one seeking to reunite children with parents in the United States whose CAM applications were shelved when President Donald Trump terminated the program in 2017.
On Tuesday, the departments announced in a statement that phase two of CAM's reopening will expand eligibility to allow legal guardians in the United State of children in South American countries to petition for the children in their care to join them across the border.
Jalina Porter, principal deputy spokeswoman at the State Department, told reporters during a press conference that the expansion is part of the Biden administration's initiatives to provide a safe and legal alternative to entering the country through "dangerous irregular migration."
"The steps we are taking reflect our values as a nation and represent our continued commitment to ensure that we treat people with dignity and respect, and that we protect the most vulnerable people, especially our children," she said.
Eligibility will also allow parents and legal guardians who have pending asylum applications or U visa petitions filed before May 15 to apply through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to reunite with their children who are nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.
"These changes will dramatically expand access to the CAM program," the department said in a joint statement. "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."
The announcement was made as the United States confronts an increase in border encounters though the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. border has been dropping.
According to recently released Customs and Border Protection statistics, while 180,034 migrants attempted to enter the United States via the southern land border in May, representing a 1% increase over April, the number of unaccompanied minors dropped from nearly 13,940 in April to 10,765 last month, representing a 23% decrease.
Before the CAM program was scrapped in 2017, nearly 5,000 children had been reunited with their families in the United States.
Porter told reporters Tuesday that since restarting the program in March, the State Department has identified 3,162 cases representing 3,828 people with some 1,100 cases having been reopened.
Asked how many people will become eligible to apply under the program's expansion, Porter said she doesn't know.
"Right now we just can't speculate on how many may ultimately be resettled as refugees or be admitted via parole status," she said.