Trump Administration Can’t Dodge Central American Child Refugee Claims

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge on Monday denied the Trump administration’s effort to toss most claims brought by parents of Central American migrant children who said the government unlawfully ended a refugee resettlement program without proper explanation.

The Central American Minors Program, established by the Obama administration in 2014, allows legal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras –sometimes called the Northern Triangle countries – to bring their children fleeing violence to the United States as refugees or parolees.

During the time the program was in operation, more than 13,000 people applied, at least 1,627 of whom were able to settle in the United States as refugees, and 1,465 people were able to enter as parolees.

President Donald Trump shut down the program by executive order days after entering office in January 2017, but the government didn’t announce the program’s termination until that August.

A class of Central American immigrant parents legally residing in the United States said in their June lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security failed to explain why it ended the parole portion of the program, which gave their children a path to reunify with them in the United States.

The lack of explanation violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires federal agencies to sufficiently articulate their reasons for policy changes and deprived families of due process, the complaint said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler rejected most of plaintiff’s claims that the Trump administration violated the lawful notice, due process and equal protections claims under the Administrative Procedures Act.

“Because the plaintiffs have not made a threshold showing that they have a protected liberty or property interest, the court dismisses their due-process claim,” Beeler wrote in a 64-page order.

But Beeler said the claims can go forward on the basis that the DHS violated the law when it rescinded parole in August 2017 for approximately 2,700 children who had been conditionally approved for parole but who had not yet traveled to the United States.

“The court holds that DHS’s failure to take into account and address those more serious reliance interests when it mass-rescinded parole for those participants was arbitrary and capricious,” Beeler wrote in the order.

However, Beeler said the termination of the program “does not foreclose parole as a general matter — individuals may apply for parole by filing a Form I-131, and the government may continue to grant parole on a case-by-case basis.”

Plaintiffs argued that the administration also violated the law when it secretly shutdown the program without proper notice.

The agency stopped interviewing children and froze their applications after the program was shut down. Applicants who were likely candidates for parole into the U.S. were also denied decisions on their applications and the medical exams required to enter the country.

But Beeler said she would no longer entertain those arguments.

“The plaintiffs’ objections to the ‘secret shutdown,’ as they relate to the termination of CAM Parole Program going forward, are moot,” the order said.

The Trump administration sought to toss the complaint, saying in court briefs that children benefiting from the program and currently residing outside of the United States lacked standing to bring the claims.

Beeler said that because the government doesn’t dispute that the parents have standing- based on their interests in being reunited with their family members – the claim against legal standing doesn’t have to be addressed at this point.

Plaintiffs had also asked Beeler to issue a preliminary injunction that would temporarily reinstate the program while Homeland Security works on issuing a sufficient explanation for its August 2017 decision to end the program.

Beeler wrote in the order the court will address the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in a separate order.

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