Biden 'greatly expands' number of Central American children eligible to apply for asylum in U.S.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration said Tuesday that it will expand the number of Central American children eligible to apply for asylum in the U.S. while still in their home countries.

The program, known as the Central American Minors Program, began in 2014, during the Obama administration, to allow children whose parents were legally in the U.S. to apply for admission, but the Trump administration stopped it. The Biden administration had been accepting applications only from children with cases that were pending when the program closed.

Now, the program will go beyond the Obama administration's eligibility limits to consider children whose parents have asylum cases pending in the U.S., a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement said the new eligibility requirements will "greatly expand" the program.

The Biden administration had embraced the Central American Minors Program as a solution to the record number of unaccompanied children crossing the border, claiming it would encourage children to apply from home rather than make the dangerous journey north. However, immigration advocates said the program would not have a large enough impact unless eligibility was expanded.

According to the National Immigration Forum, an immigrant advocacy group, only 3,092 of more than 10,000 children who applied from 2014 to 2017 were allowed into the U.S. under the program. Now, many more could be eligible.

"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 State Department spokesperson said. "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."

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