Will Biden’s new plan calm border chaos?
A pilot program yields some positive results
Back in September, border agents stopped nearly 34,000 Venezuelan migrants at southwestern points along the U.S.-Mexico border, averaging just over 1,000 per day. Then the Biden administration started a new humanitarian parole program with stricter rules for allowing Venezuelans in the country. The number of Venezuelans encountered at the border dropped to roughly 7,800 by November, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Now, the Biden administration is folding the program into a larger parole system that would accept 30,000 immigrants per month from Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua. President Joe Biden followed up the announcement of the program on Friday with his first visit to the border while in office. The latest immigration policy shift has drawn skepticism from both conservatives and open border advocates. But legal experts are cautiously optimistic that a parole program could be a feasible solution for calming chaos at the border.
A pandemic-era health policy called Title 42 gives border agents the authority to expel most illegal arrivals. Although Biden was about to remove the policy last spring, the Supreme Court ordered it to remain in place until the administration can replace it with a comprehensive plan to address mass border crossings. Even so, in fiscal year 2022, CBP reported a record 2.7 million border encounters.
Under the new parole program, if migrants from selected countries can find a U.S. sponsor who meets certain income and legal status requirements, they can schedule an appointment through a new mobile application to present themselves to CBP. Biden hopes this will reduce crowds and long wait times at U.S. ports of entry. Pending a background check, they can then fly into the country and stay on humanitarian parole for two years, giving courts more time to handle paperwork and assess asylum claims.
Any migrants who do not go through the sponsorship and parole process are subject to being deported and banned from the country for five years. The Biden administration maintains that this will disincentivize dangerous river crossings and border apprehensions.
“Do not just show up at the border,” Biden said when announcing the program. “Stay where you are and apply legally from there. Starting today, if you don’t apply through the legal process, you will not be eligible for this new parole program.”
It’s this provision that has some immigration advocacy organizations and even Democrats criticizing the plan, claiming it is too harsh and would ignore the people who need asylum the most. “This narrow benefit will exclude thousands of migrants fleeing violence and persecution who do not have the ability or economic means to qualify for the new parole process,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
GOP lawmakers and other conservatives say the plan does not go far enough. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called the White House’s latest response “a Band-Aid for a historic flood.” Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., the newly installed chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the plan “ludicrous” in an email to WORLD.
“[President Biden is] trying to bill this charade as ‘border enforcement.’ He thinks he is getting free votes, and [Mexican] President Lopez Obrador can blow off the humanitarian crisis his country is perpetuating,” Green said.
House Republicans have said they will use their new majority in the chamber to start addressing mass border crossings. Green said one of his first actions will be to send two full-time staffers to the border to shadow Customs and Border Patrol and provide regular updates. He told WORLD he wants to work on reorganizing the Department of Homeland Security and strengthening cybersecurity.
Minnesota-based attorney Scott Andrew Fulks handles immigration cases that cross his desk at Deckert Law. He said that since the White House announced the new policies, sponsors have begun signing up to help file petitions and start the parole process for new arrivals. Most of the time, they are family members, distant relatives, religious groups, or advocacy organization staffers.
Critics argue Biden does not have the authority to expand parole without congressional approval. But Fulks said the executive branch can direct the Department of Homeland Security to authorize immigration programs. The administration has already implemented similar sponsorship and parole programs for Ukrainian immigrants. Since the Ukraine program has not been subject to litigation, it is unlikely that the new expansion would suffer in courts, either. But Fulks also said broader measures to secure the border won’t be possible without new legislation, which is subject to partisan divides.
“It’s shocking on both ends that this kind of middle pathway program doesn’t even gain an ounce with either side. But I guess that’s part of striking a middle-of-the-road balance,” Fulks told me. “It’s not the solution to our immigration problems, which really needs to start with Congress. But until that happens, I think this is at least a way to move forward.”
Migration Policy Institute senior analyst Julia Gelatt hopes Biden’s plan will relieve some stress at the border. But she admitted that any action from the executive branch will garner criticism from all sides because there is no long-term solution without Congress.
“Putting people into this legal limbo doesn’t give them any assurance and permanency in the United States. Many of them will likely apply for asylum, and those proceedings could extend beyond the two years,” Gelatt told me.
Fulks called it a good step toward addressing immigration issues.
“But the success will probably come down to how much this will be publicized in each of these countries,” he said. “Some may not even be aware of the parole stipulations, and when faced with a situation they need to leave, might just immediately head North.”
In the meantime, the updates also help Biden politically. Being able to point to a reduction in border crossings will help him in the critical second half of his presidential term.
“Public opinion tends to be more supportive of immigration when the border seems under control, and it’s not right now,” Gelatt said. “For the average American, seeing that the president went to the border and has this new plan shows he’s at least trying to do something about it. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of people caught coming across the border, and we’ll have to see if that succeeds.”
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