Judge Orders Feds to Process Migrant Children’s Cases

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to resume processing applications for more than 2,000 Central American migrant children conditionally approved for resettlement in the United States under a program yanked two years ago.

In an order issued late Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler vacated the administration’s August 2017 decision to rescind conditional approval from 2,714 Guatemalan, Honduran and Salvadoran children to temporarily resettle with their parents in the United States under the Central American Minors Parole Program, finding they had a strong case and would otherwise suffer “irreparable harm.”

But Beeler refused to reinstate the Department of Homeland Security program going forward.

“Vacating DHS’s mass-rescission of conditional parole removes at least some of the hurdles, if not all, to the beneficiary-children plaintiffs’ ability to travel to the United States and relieve the harm they and their parents suffer,” Beeler wrote in a 30-page order. But “[b]ecause the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims challenging the termination of the CAM Parole Program going forward, it also denies the plaintiffs’ motion to enjoin DHS from terminating the Program going forward.”

International Refugee Assistance Project attorney Linda Evarts, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said Friday her clients were “thrilled” with the decision.

“We hope that this brings our clients closer to the date that they can reunite with their family members and escape the dangers they face every single day in Central America,” Evarts said in an interview.

Established by the Obama administration in 2014, the CAM program allows legal immigrants fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to bring their children to the United States as refugees or parolees. Parole gives children a legal path to reunification with their parents, some of whom are Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders now facing deportation after the White House revoked TPS status for their home countries in 2017.

The TPS decisions are being challenged in separate lawsuits around the country.

The CAM plaintiffs’ June 2018 class action complaint claims that President Donald Trump shut down the CAM parole program shortly after entering office the previous year, but didn’t announce the cancellation until seven months later, in August 2017. And when the cancellation finally was announced, the plaintiffs claim administration officials failed to explain why, as required by federal law.

The plaintiffs moved the next month for a preliminary injunction blocking DHS from ending the program, ordering it to reinstate conditional approvals and to continue processing conditionally approved beneficiaries.

To support the request, they submitted evidence of the dangers they face in their home countries. According to their complaint, one plaintiff was forced to drop out of high school just before graduating because she feared being raped or killed by an MS-13 gang member trying to forcibly “date” her. Another plaintiff has trouble walking and bathing after he was beaten by MS-13 gang members. And MS-13 gang members are threatening to murder a third plaintiff after shooting his uncle outside his home.

The plaintiffs also say they have missed important events in their relatives’ lives and the chance to care for sick relatives.

The government countered that an injunction was unwarranted because it didn’t separate the plaintiffs’ families or endanger them in their home countries.

Beeler, however, disagreed with this assessment Friday. She noted that the Ninth Circuit affirmed similar injunctions in two “travel ban” cases, “thereby implicitly holding that there was a sufficient causal connection in those cases between the alleged irreparable harm (prolonged familial separation) and the activity to be enjoined.”

“The court here similarly finds that there is a sufficient causal connection between alleged irreparable harm (prolonged familial separation and physical danger to the beneficiary-children plaintiffs) and the activity to be enjoined (the government’s mass-rescission of beneficiaries’ conditional parole into the United States),” Beeler wrote.

In a Feb. 14 hearing, a Justice Department lawyer told Beeler that even if the judge vacated the mass-rescission and restored the beneficiaries’ conditional approvals, DHS might refuse to process the beneficiaries in “good faith,” and instead place them on indefinite hold.

To head off this possibility, Beeler on Friday also ordered DHS not to adopt “any policy, procedure, or practice of not processing the beneficiaries or placing their processing on hold en masse.” DHS, she said, “must process the beneficiaries in good faith.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Friday.

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