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‘Humanitarian Parole’ Excludes the Most Vulnerable Immigrants

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“Humanitarian parole is really seeking to reduce the number of irregular entries into the United States. It is not all bad, but it’s not inclusive and not flexible with folks who are seeking asylum.”

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Every year, millions of people, desperate and vulnerable, flee their countries due to war, extreme poverty, violence, forced displacement, environmental devastation, and persecution. Yet US policy towards people seeking protection and safety has been nearly ironclad in recent years.  

The Trump administration’s Muslim bans 1.0 and 2.0 blocked travelers with passports and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. The US refugee resettlement program was temporarily halted and refugee admission numbers were drastically slashed. Families and individuals arriving at the US-Mexico border—the majority of whom are seeking asylum, a form of protection from persecution established by the United Nations in 1951—were stopped through other tactics.

The Migrant Protections Protocol (MPP) forced people from all over the world who were seeking asylum to remain in Mexico while their court cases were being adjudicated.  Asylum-seekers like the author of this article were relegated to living along the US border in Mexico under dangerous and unsupported conditions for months and even years. In 2020, Trump invoked Title 42, an arcane public health order, to effectively close the border to asylum seekers during the pandemic. People who attempted to ask for asylum at ports of entry were turned away and expelled without a basic screening for asylum or other protections, in violation of international law. Two million people were summarily deported, primarily Black and brown people from the Caribbean and Central America. 

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Two years into the Biden administration, many of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies at the border remain. Although the MPP program has halted for now, the Supreme Court’s recent order prohibits the Biden administration from ending Title 42 entirely. In January of this year, the Biden administration announced several policies that will continue to severely restrict entry by people who arrive at the southern border  seeking protection. 

This article by Sergio, who recently won his asylum case, dissects one of these recent policies, “humanitarian parole” for a limited number of people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti.—Deborah Lee

As a Nicaraguan immigrant, I wonder, “How does humanitarian parole impact me? And what it is the meaning and purpose of humanitarian parole?” Recently the United States government approved my asylum claim after a process that took almost three years. I had to leave my country of origin because of political persecution from the government, and then after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States, I was returned to wait in Mexico as a result of the “Migrant Protections Protocol” (MPP). I suffered kidnapping and an assassination attempt from which I now have psychological and physical scars.

This all happened during the Trump administration. After waiting in Mexico for almost eight months, I was sent to a detention center in San Diego, California for another six months until I was finally freed with a $10,000 bond that that was paid thanks to an organization that put down the money.

Early in 2023, President Biden announced a two-year “humanitarian parole,” an immigration policy for nationals of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. Some people are optimistic and think this is a good thing. But in my opinion, it is a discriminatory policy and, more importantly, excludes those who are most vulnerable. Biden’s new policy will open up a process by which a limited number of migrants of these four nationalities can apply to live and work in the US for two years by using an phone app called CBP One. Those accepted through the application process must show they have US-based sponsors to support them,

This new policy had already been available exclusively for Venezuelans since October 12, 2022, with 24,000 spots available each month. Now that it has been expanded to include three more countries, there are a total of 30,000 spots for all four of them. Just to give some context, in 2022 the median number of people crossing from Cuba per month was 15,166; from Nicaragua, 13,716; and Venezuela, 25,349. There was no registry or record of the average number of Haitians crossing. The number of openings under the humanitarian parole program falls far short of the need.

Exclusionary criteria

Humanitarian parole will only be granted to people who meet the criteria of eligibility. To be eligible, a person must have a sponsor who has legal status in the United States and is willing to support them with their expenses for the next 10 years, or for the time that the immigrant lives in the US. This point disqualifies many people who don’t have family members already living in the US, or who know people who are willing to be sponsors but do not have legal status in the country. The sponsor also has to meet various income criteria. Again, this disqualifies a person who wishes to be a sponsor, but who does not earn enough money to meet the criteria.

People from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti who cross the border into the United States irregularly, without inspection, will be returned immediately and they will be disqualified for humanitarian parole. This also applies if they pass through the borders of Mexico and Panama irregularly. This provision has the harshest impact on the most vulnerable migrants. If a person is fleeing from persecution, be it for reasons of race, sex or gender, religion, or political persecution, they cannot wait in their country of origin. It also violates their human rights to seek international protection.

All applications will be processed through a mobile app called “CBP One.” This will exclude people who don’t have access to technology or know how to use mobile devices. Furthermore, this app is only available in English, and possibly Spanish. But in countries like Nicaragua and Haiti, there are different languages that will be excluded, like Miskito and Creole.

Applicants for humanitarian parole must submit a criminal history, pay for their flight, and have an unexpired passport. It’s impossible to obtain a passport through a government that is persecuting you, so people fleeing for political reasons will be unable to meet this criteria. Also, people may not have the means to pay for a flight, which further excludes the most vulnerable.

Better solutions

This policy is really seeking to reduce the number of irregular entries, or entries without inspection, into the United States. It is not all bad: it will benefit certain groups of people who, in my opinion, are not really at immediate risk but wish to migrate for economic reasons. In this way, they won’t have to put their lives on the line in order to cross the borders in an irregular manner or need to pay coyotes. But it worries me because it’s not inclusive and not flexible with folks who are seeking asylum. I do hope that these measures have a positive effect and that they eventually extend to groups of immigrants who are most vulnerable.

I also think that these new humanitarian parole policies are much too hasty. There are many ways to improve the system, starting with immigration reform that brings security to migrants who have been living in the shadows and speeds up family petitions. These have such a ridiculous wait, up to 20 years for some countries. The asylum process also needs to be sped up, and the right of asylum reestablished. Finally, Title 42 should be eliminated.

Convergence Editorial Board member Xiomara Corpeño provided Spanish-to-English translation for this article.

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