The humanitarian parole policy is only six months old and is already announcing a storm. What began as a sunny day welcomed with joy by thousands of families on both shores, soon turned gray with the attempt to impute the program by 20 states of the Union; the stream of criticism of the processing of the cases by the applicants; and the notable accumulation of applications in the hands of the immigration authorities.
In October 2021, the humanitarian parole program was approved for Venezuelans. In January 2023 it was extended to Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. As a policy, it was instituted to respond to the chaotic situation on the southern border of the United States. In this sense, its objective was to calm the waters and discourage potential irregular migrants from trying to reach the country through illegal means. The dream of legal entry also germinated in them. Both authorities and figures show that the policy has managed to reduce the avalanche at the border.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office, in September 2022 alone, 182,704 border encounters were quantified. 42% (77,302) were nationals from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. The number meant an increase of 245% compared to September 2021.
In January 2023, the meetings of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans on the southern border dropped from a daily average of 1,231. This was quantified on the 5th — before the announcement of the policy — to only 59 on the 31st of the same month: a 95% drop in just over three weeks.
The announced luck
The border authorities credit the implementation of the program with the decrease in the number of irregular migrants from the four beneficiary countries, which has been verified from January to date.
In the specific case of Cuba, in January 2023 — the first month of the program — a total of 6,175 of its nationals were found on the southern border. Just a month earlier, in December 2022, the numbers had reached 42,183. The statistical decrease from one month to the next was 85%.
Throughout the fiscal year 2022 (October 1, 2021-September 30, 2022), which registered record numbers of migration along the southern border of the United States, 220,607 Cubans were caught in their attempt to enter that country illegally. The number exceeded all previous annual statistics, including the migratory waves of 1980 and 1994. In the first wave, with the opening of the port of Mariel, around 125,000 migrants left Cuba between April and October 1980. In the second, known as the “rafters crisis,” some 35,000 emigrated in about five weeks (summer 1994).
According to numbers revealed by CBP at the end of May 2023, only 907 Cubans were intercepted at the southern border that month.
The advantages of the humanitarian parole policy are indisputable. It is a method of entering the country, although more selective and reduced, also legal, with no initial cost other than the plane ticket. It allows the beneficiary to be eligible for a temporary residence and work permit for two years, provided they have a sponsor.
On the other hand, the fate announced for those who do not make use of the “new migratory routes” is not promising. As reported, “citizens of Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua” who “attempt to enter the United States without authorization and cannot establish a legal basis to remain” will be deported to Cuba or returned to Mexico, a country that has agreed to welcome 30,000 people per month to reside in that country. In addition, those who are returned will not be able to apply for the parole program until five years after their deportation.
In this sense, taking advantage of this migratory benefit seems the best possible option. But there are elements that undermine the success of what was planned.
Promises to keep
The avalanche of hundreds of thousands of applications for sponsorship in favor of applicants from the four beneficiary countries has far exceeded the number of approvals expected by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS); that is, only 30,000 per month distributed among people from the four nations included in the program. At the end of May, the United States accumulated more than 1.5 million applications for sponsorship.
While the number of applications accumulates, the number of approvals does not meet the promise. Of the 30,000 reserved in theory, data offered by the CBP at the end of January show that only a total of 11,637 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans were granted travel permits that month. Later figures are closer to the monthly total, but they don’t reach it.
Nor can one speak of a balance in the allocation of permits by country. At the end of June 2023, the most up-to-date numbers showed some 28,000 Cubans benefited; this figure is lower than that of Venezuelans (51,000) and Haitians (about 40,000), and only higher than that of Nicaraguans (23,000).
According to statements by Blas Núñez-Neto, U.S. Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for the border, in a recent interview with América TeVé, the differences were due to the fact that “demand from the Haitian community was very strong in the first months.”
At the end of April, reports from the Department of Homeland Security supported the review of more than 580,000 pending cases for Haitians, more than 380,000 for Cubans, almost 120,000 for Venezuelans, and more than 20,000 for Nicaraguans.
Since the implementation of the program, it has never been clarified whether the distribution of these travel permits would be made equitably among the included countries. However, a more balanced allocation of quotas was presumed.
Where the umbrella got jammed
The application process and the waiting time that seems to become indefinite accumulate the greatest dissatisfaction among applicants. In fact, the perception of most of those waiting for a response to their cases is that the evaluation of applications has slowed down or almost stopped. At this point, cases from the first days of January await resolution.
Given the growing uncertainty, the manifest dissatisfaction of the interested parties and the avalanche of criticism, since May 17 USCIS implemented an update of the review method. As of that date, half of the monthly petitions began to be analyzed according to the when the case was presented — which prioritizes the oldest ones; and the other half is selected at random.
Undoubtedly, the magnitude of the number of applications accumulated in the hands of USCIS, and the stress that this unloads on the processing capacities of the entity bring about the indefiniteness of waiting times.
The change in methods is an attempt — success yet to be verified — to alleviate a flooding torrent. The truth is that the persistence of the situation could well jeopardize the Biden administration’s goal of containing border crossings.
On behalf of his government, Núñez-Neto assured that all applications in favor of citizens of the beneficiary countries will be processed. But waiting times remain an unanswered question.
Other black clouds hang over the parole policy, which already deals with enough internally. There has been a lawsuit against this immigration benefit since January 24; a trial is expected that will determine its fate.
The governments of 20 states are seeking to stop the program in Texas Federal Court. The argument: that the country’s president is not empowered by law to create a visa program that should have the approval of Congress.
August 24 is the latest date set by a federal judge for the trial. However, in the words of immigration attorney José Guerrero, a final decision can be expected long after September 29. Until then, the parties have time to provide information on their cases.
The postponement of the process grants a temporary respite both to those who are waiting for a response to their requests, and to those who wish to send new applications.
Until the trial date, however, uncertainty will be shared. And although all those involved await a dismissal of the lawsuit, no one is unaware that the final result could be a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. This scenario would imply an immediate temporary suspension of the program until its legality is determined.
Eliminating the policy would throw the southern border back into chaos. It would destroy the efforts of the migratory order that the benefit of the parole contains. As long as the annulment is not implemented, the storm is not going to break, but it already looms.