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Biden administration has admitted more than 1 million migrants into U.S. under parole policy

Immigration Asylum
Posted at 12:18 PM, Jan 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-22 14:19:00-05

More than 1 million people have been allowed to enter the U.S. under Biden administration programs based on the immigration parole authority that Congress is considering restricting at the request of Republican lawmakers, according to internal government data obtained by CBS News.

Since President Biden took office in 2021, his administration has used immigration parole at a historic scale, invoking the decades-old law to welcome hundreds of thousands of foreigners fleeing armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Ukraine, or political and economic crises in countries like Haiti and Venezuela.

Since 1952, parole has empowered federal officials to welcome migrants who don't have the visas that are typically required to enter the U.S. The law allows these entries if they further a humanitarian cause or public benefit, but it does not give beneficiaries permanent legal status. Instead, migrants paroled into the country are permitted to live and work in the U.S. for a period of time, typically one or two years.

The Biden administration has argued its use of parole has allowed it to respond to emergency situations, such as the Taliban's reconquest of Afghanistan and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and to reduce illegal crossings at the southern border by offering would-be migrants legal channels to come to the U.S. Biden administration officials have said they've acted unilaterally since Congress has not expanded legal immigration pathways since 1990.

Talks in Congress

But Republican leaders in Washington and several states have accused the Biden administration of abusing the parole law, which they argue is intended to be used only in limited cases. In recent weeks, GOP lawmakers in Congress have demanded significant restrictions on parole and asylum in exchange for supporting Mr. Biden's request for border security funds and foreign military aid, including to Ukraine.

While the White House and a small bipartisan group of senators have agreed to enact drastic limits on asylum and broader expulsion authorities as part of a potential border policy compromise, changing parole has remained a sticking point. Still, both sides have indicated they could have a deal this week.

The proposals discussed by White House and Senate negotiators include putting numerical caps on parole grants and barring migrants paroled into the country from asylum to try to ensure they leave the U.S. once their parole period expires, two people briefed on the closed-door talks told CBS News.

In a statement to CBS News, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Luis Miranda said the Biden administration's use of parole is part of a "balanced approach" that also includes penalties for illegal border crossings, such as a regulation that restricts asylum for those who don't seek refuge in other countries before entering the U.S.

"As a result of these efforts, hundreds of thousands of noncitizens have followed lawful pathways and orderly processes instead of crossing illegally between ports of entry," Miranda said. "The fact remains that, for decades, Republican and Democratic Administrations alike have used parole authority on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit."

The parole authority

Changes to the parole law could force the Biden administration to alter a key pillar of its immigration strategy. While Republican and Democratic administrations have used parole since the 1950s — including to resettle large groups of refugees fleeing communist regimes during the Cold War — the Biden administration's use of the policy has been unprecedented by any measure.

Internal federal statistics as of Jan. 18 show the Biden administration has invoked the parole authority to admit 422,000 migrants who used a government phone app known as CBP One to schedule a time to be processed at an official U.S.-Mexico border crossing. These migrants are also placed in deportation proceedings in immigration court, though those cases typically take years to be decided due to a massive backlog of claims.

Officials have also used parole to welcome 340,000 Haitians, Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans at airports under a Biden administration program that allows U.S.-based individuals to sponsor them, according to the internal data.

Under another sponsorship program called Uniting for Ukraine, the U.S. has allowed more than 176,000 Ukrainians to enter the country under the parole authority, according to federal statistics. Before that program was created in April 2022, DHS data show, the Biden administration paroled more than 20,000 Ukrainians at the southern border after they flew to Mexico during the early days of the Russian invasion.

Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, the Biden administration cited the parole authority to resettle more than 77,000 Afghans, most of whom were airlifted from Kabul.

The Biden administration has used parole in other contexts, including to release hundreds of thousands of migrants who crossed the southern border illegally in 2021 and 2022 under a policy that was struck down in federal court. But those migrants only received 60-day grants of parole, which was used to release them from custody so they could attend check-in appointments in different U.S. cities.

Federal officials also operate other parole programs and categories, but they are much smaller in scale. For example, the Biden administration is allowing immigrants from Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Haiti and some Central American countries who have pending family-based immigrant visa applications to come to the U.S. more quickly via parole. Roughly 3,600 immigrants have arrived under those policies, according to internal federal figures.

Absent new laws, many of the hundreds of thousands of people paroled into the U.S. during Mr. Biden's presidency could find themselves in legal limbo, living in the U.S. illegally or facing deportation under an administration with different views. While the Biden administration has announced processes to extend the parole grants of Afghans and some Ukrainians, it has not done so for others. The Republican presidential candidates hoping to defeat Mr. Biden have signaled they would end his parole programs.

If Congress does restrict parole, it would curtail a key presidential power, said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor at Cornell Law School who studies U.S. immigration law.

"Every administration, Republican and Democratic, has used parole because in an emergency, like the Mariel boatlift or the Hungarian Revolution, you want to have something that allows you to bring in large groups of people to get them out of harm's way," Yale-Loehr said. "Every administration wants to have maximum flexibility and anything that the Republicans do to require restrictions on parole will hamper any future administration."

But even if Congress does not change the parole authority, its use could nonetheless be restricted in federal court. Republican officials in Texas are currently asking a federal judge to block the sponsorship program for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, arguing the policy flouts the limits Congress placed on legal immigration levels.

U.S. District Court Judge Drew Tipton could rule on the program's legality any day now. Appointed by former President Donald Trump, Tipton has ruled against other Biden administration immigration initiatives, including a proposed 100-day moratorium on most deportations.