New immigration rules mean relief for some, removal for others
The United States tries to fight illegal border crossing with new legal entry rules
Pastor Rosalio Sosa spent the first two nights of November sleeping in tents with Venezuelan immigrants on the banks of the Rio Grande between Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas. Sosa pastors Iglesia Bautista Tierra de Oro in El Paso and operates 19 immigrant shelters in Mexico.
Last fiscal year, U.S. border officials encountered Venezuelan immigrants more than 189,500 times as people fled an oppressive communist regime.
In October, the Biden administration agreed to accept some Venezuelan migrants on humanitarian parole, but only if they first applied in their home country. That limited the options for Venezuelans who already left home and were waiting in Mexico to apply for asylum.
While he stayed at the camp, Sosa watched a group of desperate immigrants storm across the Rio Grande toward the United States. One man waved a massive Venezuelan flag. Border patrol repelled the advance with pepper balls.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced several immigration measures to prepare for the end of Title 42—the public health order that allows immigration authorities to expel some immigrants before they can request asylum. Despite months of legal wrangling, Title 42 remains in place, awaiting a U.S. Supreme Court hearing in March. Biden’s new immigration rules create more opportunities for those considering coming to the United States from countries like Venezuela. But they don’t define the next steps for thousands of migrants currently waiting at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Under the new rules, the United States will accept up to 30,000 immigrants per month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti. They will receive temporary humanitarian parole through a private sponsorship program. The program aims to reduce record illegal crossings fueled by immigration from Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.
“Do not just show up at the border. Stay where you are and apply legally from there,” Biden said Thursday. Those who try to cross the border illegally will be sent back to Mexico under Title 42 and disqualified from the humanitarian parole program.
Mexico plays a significant role in this border strategy, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, managing director of immigration policy at Bipartisan Policy Center. The United States cannot send non-Mexican immigrants back to Mexico unless the country agrees to take them. The administration could not have offered the new parole program without Mexico’s consent to take up to 30,000 individuals monthly from the four designated nations.
“We are continuing to see how, frankly, pivotal to the U.S. border management strategy is the government of Mexico,” said Brown. “Those negotiations determine essentially what we can do with people who arrive at the border who aren’t Mexican.”
The Biden administration reportedly also intends to prohibit immigrants from seeking asylum if they do not first request it in a third country on the way. For example, someone who crossed from Guatemala into Mexico would have to apply for asylum in Mexico first before seeking it in the United States. An appeals court panel blocked a similar rule issued under the Trump administration in 2020. Asylum systems in third countries might not have the capacity to handle these requests, said Matthew Soerens, director of church mobilization for World Relief. He added that Mexico is slowly building its asylum infrastructure, but is nowhere close to ready.
Biden also wants to boost the refugee system. Laurence Benenson is the vice president of policy and advocacy for the National Immigration Forum. Traditionally, most refugees came from overseas, Benenson said, “so our refugee infrastructure isn’t as robust for Western Hemisphere refugees.” The administration will welcome up to 20,000 refugees from Latin American and Caribbean countries during the next two years, more than tripling Western Hemisphere refugee admissions from last fiscal year.
But this will take time. For now, parole is quicker. It avoids the refugee system backlogs and the logjam of immigration court asylum cases.
“Parole is a useful tool here,” said Benenson, but it isn’t a cure-all. Immigrants on humanitarian parole live under the weight of wondering what happens when the temporary status expires. To get permanent residency, they must either join the yearslong asylum line or hope Congress passes an adjustment act to provide a pathway to citizenship.
Immigrants already in Mexico face few options. The parole program encourages people to fly from their home countries and register in U.S. airports, so it may be difficult for those who would otherwise just show up at the border to access it. Like Venezuelans in October, Nicaraguans and Cubans with no sponsor may find themselves stuck in Mexican border camps.
Some may be able to request exceptions from Title 42 and apply for asylum appointments at ports of entry using the CBP One app from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Cardinal Brown called the app a step in the right direction. Opening ports of entry to more asylum claims could reduce unauthorized crossings and the smuggling operations between ports of entry, as well as the burden on Border Patrol.
But applicants may not want to wait in northern Mexico if the only available appointments are two years away, Cardinal Brown said. Soerens also worries about immigrants’ safety as they wait: “The levels of violence on the Mexican border towards Central Americans and Venezuelans and Cubans calls into question the idea that it’s really a safe option.”
At the Juarez–El Paso border crossing, Pastor Sosa continues to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the immigrants who arrive at his shelters. He said some of the Nicaraguan, Cuban, and Venezuelan immigrants have applied for Title 42 exception and asylum appointments with the CBP One app. “They have to just wait and see what happens,” he said.
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