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Texas v. Biden and the State-Led Campaigns Against Immigrant Children and Their Families

Earlier this year, the Attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton, alongside seven other state attorneys generals, filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration seeking to shut down the Central American Minors (CAM) Refugee and Parole Program. Last week, eight additional states joined the suit. Today, IRAP filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of four families seeking to reunite with their children through the program. 

Created in 2014, the CAM program is a vital pathway for parents lawfully present in the United States to apply for their minor children and certain additional family members living in El Salvador, Honduras, or Guatemala to join them in safety in the United States. 

IRAP represents several parents seeking to reunite with their children, who are at various stages of the CAM process. IRAP’s motion in the Texas lawsuit is an opportunity for affected parents to directly defend this critical program. Our clients are parents who want nothing more than to be reunited with their children, who for years have been stuck in dangerous circumstances that no child should ever experience. One client’s son had to stop attending school due to violent threats from gangs. The son was in the final stages of the CAM process when the Trump administration shut down the program in 2017. Our client’s “great fear” is that “the U.S. government will cancel the CAM program again just like the last time, and that, at the very last minute, my son will be prevented from joining me here in the United States.” 

The closing of the parole portion of the CAM program in 2017 halted processing for 2,714 people in the final stages of their applications, including several IRAP clients who had received conditional approvals. IRAP represented six families and the organization CASA de Maryland In a successful legal challenge, obtaining a preliminary injunction and later a settlement that required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to continue processing the cases of the 2,714 conditionally approved CAM parolees.

In March 2021, the Biden administration announced the reopening of the program. DHS and the Department of State (DOS) resumed processing for cases that had been closed during the Trump administration and began accepting new applicants. The reopening also expanded the categories of parents who are eligible to apply for their children.

This latest state litigation challenging the reopening of the CAM program is part of a broader pattern of states attempting to rewrite federal immigration policy to keep out immigrants, and especially immigrant children. In Florida, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order, which effectively cuts off state funding to any organizations that provide services to unaccompanied, undocumented immigrant children. And just over a week ago, the Florida Legislature voted to pass SB 1808 and HB 1355, bills that ban state or local governments from contracting with companies that provide transportation to unaccompanied minors. In Tennessee, state legislators recently considered HB 1919, legislation which would have criminalized parents who sought custody of their unaccompanied children. And in Texas, the State Attorney General billed the legal challenge to CAM as Texas’s “9th Border-Crisis Lawsuit Against Biden.”

These policies of exclusion do not reflect the views of many people in these states, including many impacted immigrants who call the states home.  But the policies are directly linked to the prior Administration’s attempts to shut out immigrants with policies like the Muslim ban, Remain in Mexico, and the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in separating hundreds of children from their families.  CAM was an early target of the Trump Administration; case processing was stopped without notice in February 2017 and the Administration later rescinded CAM even for people who had been in processing for years and were on the verge of travel.  Some of the same architects of the Trump Administration’s immigration agenda–including Gene Hamilton–are responsible in part for litigating the challenge to CAM.

It is never okay to harm children. The Texas-led challenge to CAM and state policies like it are part of a trend that does not reflect our values as a nation, regardless of party politics. Nelson Mandela once famously said, “[t]here can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” The United States must work towards becoming a beacon of safety and justice for all, especially children.