- Program applies to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras
- Some parents, siblings, caregivers may join youth as refugees
President Barack Obama announced an expansion of a refugee program for Central Americans fleeing violence in their home countries, the day after the Democratic National Convention featured an undocumented immigrant among its opening-night speakers.
Some adults will be eligible to accompany minors under age 21 seeking refugee status from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as the administration tries to discourage people from using smugglers to enter the U.S. illegally.
“The goal is for individuals who have legitimate humanitarian claims to not take the dangerous journey and to accept our outstretched arm of relief,” Alejandro Mayorkas, deputy secretary of homeland security, told reporters Tuesday on a conference call. He said he doesn’t know how many people may come into the U.S. under this expansion.
Obama is expanding the program even though a federal court blocked his plan to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. The administration last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court -- once it has a full roster of nine justices -- to reconsider the lower court ruling on that plan after the high court deadlocked 4-4 in June, leaving the program tabled.
Immigration is playing a central role in the U.S. presidential election. Democratic Party leaders say it should be easier for people to settle legally in the U.S., and the lineup of speakers on Monday at the nominating convention for their presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, included a Nevada girl, Karla Ortiz, and her mother, Francisca, an undocumented immigrant.
Conversely, the Republican Party last week approved a platform supporting its presidential nominee Donald Trump’s position that immigration should be reduced, saying immigrants take jobs from U.S. workers.
Immigration groups criticized the Obama administration earlier this year for an uptick in deportations of undocumented Central American families from the U.S.
So far the minors program has gotten about 9,500 applications and 267 people -- primarily from El Salvador -- have been admitted to the U.S.
Administration officials say that expanding the refugee program for Central Americans will make it easier for some of those people to enter the U.S. legally. The expansion announced Tuesday would allow some older siblings, parents and other related caregivers to be eligible for refugee status when applying to enter the U.S. with minors.