SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A Justice Department attorney suggested in federal court Thursday the Trump administration might not “in good faith” process residency applications under a U.S. resettlement program for Central American migrant children it secretly ended two years ago, potentially handing a victory to a class of immigrants fighting to revive the program.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler seemed somewhat taken aback by the admission made by Justice Department attorney Alison Daw during a hearing in downtown San Francisco. The plaintiffs – Central American immigrants legally residing in the United States and their minor children living in Central America – want Beeler to reinstate conditional approval of applicants and to order the program be revived for applicants in the pipeline at the time of its cancelation in August 2017.
Established in 2014 by the Obama administration, the Central American Minors program (CAM) allows legal immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fleeing violence 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 claims President Donald Trump shut down the parole portion of the CAM program by executive order days after entering office in January 2017, but his administration didn’t announce it until seven months later. When the shutdown was finally announced, administration officials did not sufficiently explain the rationale as required by federal law, the plaintiffs say.
Beeler on Thursday gave little indication how she would rule on the preliminary injunction until Daw described Homeland Security’s position.
“As far as DHS is concerned, the issue of parole is discretionary,” Daw said when asked if DHS will process applications “in good faith” on remand.
“Since discretion rests with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who has made her position very clear, it does seem that a favorable exercise of discretion would occur as a matter of course. I don’t think even if vacated…they’re going to be reprocessed using the same exercise of discretion perhaps the Obama administration” exercised, Daw said.
“I asked for an answer, and that’s your answer,” Beeler replied.
Earlier in the hearing, Daw argued DHS will be unduly burdened if ordered to start reprocessing parolees after dismantling parole infrastructure following the program’s termination.
But Linda Evarts, an attorney with the International Refugee Assistance Project representing the class, said this explanation was disingenuous. Evarts said the International Organization for Migration – an intergovernmental organization with which the State Department contracts to run its Resettlement Support Center in Latin America – “continues to work on the CAM refugee program, doing the same exact work.”
In their injunction brief, the plaintiffs argue the harms they have suffered with CAM’s termination have been “swift and irreparable, indeed devastating.”
The plaintiffs include a teenage girl who was forced to drop out of high school just before graduation because she feared being raped or killed by an MS-13 gang member trying to forcibly “date” her; a teenage boy who has trouble walking and bathing after being beaten by MS-13 gang members; and a teenage boy MS-13 members are threatening with murder after shooting his uncle outside the boy’s home.
“Parents lawfully in the United States – including those who had purchased plane tickets for their children (in reliance on the government’s representations) and believed their children would arrive in days or weeks – remain separated from their loved ones,” the brief states. “Children have suffered brutal attacks and death threats at the hands of vicious gangs and are consigned to a life as prisoners in their own homes, separated from their parents.”
Evarts reiterated the harms absent an injunction in court Thursday. “We want to make sure this moves expeditiously,” she said.