The United States will expand its Central American refugee program, according to a Tuesday announcement.
The Central American Minors Program will be expanded, allowing qualified children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to be accompanied by their biological parents, caregivers or siblings who are at least 21-years-old.
In-country refugee screening will also be broadened as part of the plan, under which Costa Rica will temporarily take in refugees in urgent need of escaping their countries.
The Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) called the Obama administration's announcement "an important step in upholding domestic and international laws governing the treatment of refugees."
"Blocking refugees from safety is immoral and violates the law," NIJC's Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy said in a statement. "The announcement shows a growing acknowledgement that Central American families and children are running from real danger, including severe gender-based violence and persecution by criminal organizations and drug cartels."
That being said, McCarthy expressed concern that many Central Americans in need of protection won't be covered by the program.
Opponents of the expansion plan include U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA,6), who chairs of the House Judiciary Committee.
"Once again, the Obama Administration has decided to blow wide open any small discretion it has in order to reward individuals who have no lawful presence in the United States with the ability to bring their family members here," he said in a statement. "Today's expansion of the Obama Administration's policy is simply a continuation of the government-sanctioned border surge. ... Rather than take the steps necessary to end the ongoing crisis at the border, the Obama Administration perpetuates it by abusing a legal tool meant to be used sparingly to bring people to the United States and instead applying it to the masses in Central America."