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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and seven other attorneys general filed a lawsuit Friday asking a federal judge to halt a Biden administration immigration program that allows some Central American children to legally migrate to the United States and reunite with their parents or legal guardians — including those who have pending asylum claims.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Amarillo, claims the Central American Minors Program “defies common sense” and is rewarding “those who break the law.”
The program was created in 2014 under the Obama administration to allow children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to reunite with their parents in the U.S. rather than using smugglers to enter the country illegally. In 2017, the Trump administration ended the program. In March 2021, the Biden administration restarted it.
Under Obama, the program was limited to the children of biological or step-parents who had legal immigration status. The Biden administration expanded it to include children’s legal guardians and parents with pending asylum cases.
The children have to be 21 years old or younger and unmarried to qualify for the program. Both parents and children have to provide DNA samples, and guardians also have to provide paperwork to show evidence of their relationship with the child.
The approval process can take six months to a year. If approved, children can legally enter the U.S. as refugees, which creates a pathway to citizenship, or as parolees, which offers a work permit. Both require a background check and clearance from the federal government.
Immigration officials received 12,100 applications to the program and made decisions on 6,300 cases, approving 99% of them, before the Trump administration ended the program in March 2017, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute, a think tank that studies immigration patterns. Of those approved, 4,600 recipients traveled to the U.S.
The attorneys general say the Biden administration doesn’t have authority to run the program because it wasn’t approved by Congress. They also argue the program places a financial burden on their states because they have to provide services to the children such as education and health care.
The other states joining the lawsuit are Arkansas, Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma.
Texas has been a thorn in the side of the Biden administration, filing lawsuits that have blocked the federal government on two major immigration programs. The first, filed in 2018, stopped the government from accepting new applicants to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, a 2012 program that allows some young undocumented immigrants to get renewable work permits and protects them from deportation as long as they don’t have criminal histories.
In another lawsuit, a federal judge ruled in favor of Texas in August and ordered the Biden administration to reimplement the Migrant Protection Protocols, informally known as “remain in Mexico,” a Trump-era policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico as their cases make their way through U.S. immigration courts.