Texas and 19 other states sued the Biden Administration on Tuesday, alleging the president’s new immigration program expanding humanitarian parole is illegal.
The lawsuit centers on the use of existing immigration law to parole a combined 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela into the U.S. each month. These asylum seekers are asking to be exempt from Title 42 because they are fleeing their home countries for “urgent humanitarian reasons” due to political instability, violence, and persecution. To be admitted, they must apply for parole from their home countries, pass a background check, and prove they have a financial supporter in the U.S. The program allows them to obtain a work permit and remain in the U.S. for two years. Once here, they can request asylum.
The temporary discretionary status, which requires migrants to enter the U.S. by airplane, is modeled after the policy that allowed for the rapid processing of Ukrainians fleeing war. Biden’s goal with the policy is to deter migration to the U.S.-Mexico border by Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Venezuelan migrants. However, the 20 GOP-led states argue that the initiative allows hundreds of thousands of migrants to enter the country “who [would] otherwise have no basis to do so.” Immigration advocates are alarmed at the policy for a different reason, saying the program bars migrants and asylum-seekers from entering the country upon arriving at the border.
While Title 42 remains in place as it awaits a legal resolution, President Biden’s new “border enforcement actions” teeter dangerously close to an all-out unconstitutional asylum ban, according to advocates.
Migrants forced to wait for relief as part of Biden’s program are left languishing in precarious and dangerous situations, but this is of no concern to the 20 states that filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in Texas’ federal court. The lawsuit directly questions DHS’ ability to circumvent Congress and create a parole program without legislative approval. Meanwhile, governors from Texas, Florida, and Arizona continue to deploy their own state-wide immigration policy by forcibly busing migrants to New York, Delaware, and other states without any coordination with local jurisdictions and without the approval of state legislatures.
“While offering relief to some migrants and asylum seekers, these humanitarian parole programs will assist a limited number of people with the means to apply and only offers temporary protection for those seeking long-term security,” said Tessa Petit, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC), in a statement. “[I]t is unthinkable that President Joseph R. Biden, who our communities supported in his bid to the White House, is continuing to uphold and expand Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s racist Frankenstein known as Title 42.”
According to Petit and FLIC’s federal campaign lead, Yareliz Mendez-Zamora, the humanitarian parole process is riddled with barriers to entry. The process can only be accessed via a flawed smartphone app that requires internet access, drastically limiting accessibility for migrants who cannot read and write and those without financial means. The Biden Administration has yet to explain if the app will be available in Indigenous languages or if the process will be made accessible to those who need assistance or are without internet or a smartphone. Additionally, beneficiaries must pay for their own flights to the U.S., and they are no longer allowed to apply for asylum at the Southern border and will have to wait to be processed into the country to begin the asylum application. Additionally, anyone who was previously deported is not eligible for the program. Considering that the migrants who are eligible for the program are fleeing urgent and dangerous conditions, the program’s weeks-long wait could subject them to further harm.
“The violence that folks are fleeing makes it so that we need a process that is inclusive, a process that is also compassionate to what’s happening because if I am trying to survive cholera and gang warfare there’s just certain things that I don’t have access to,” Mendez-Zamora said. “Haiti does not have gas right now. There are rolling blackouts. [The program] is just not based on the reality of what these countries are facing. And people in the Caribbean will continue to risk their lives via sea to reach the U.S.”
A historic number of migrants have attempted entry into the U.S. in the past year. Over 4,000 Cuban migrants have been intercepted at sea since Oct. 2022, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. In the last year, 220,000 Cubans arrived by foot via the southern border, more than double the number who came during the Mariel boatlift in the 1980s. Biden’s policy is far removed from the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that granted Cuban nationals immunity in their voyage to the U.S. as long as they touched American soil. Biden was vice president when President Obama ended the policy during the last days of his administration. But as a record number of Cuban migrants attempt entry into the U.S., and given that deporting Cubans is not a simple process because of the lack of international relations between the two countries, Biden is effectively barring asylum for Cubans entirely.
“It’s a program that is eroding our asylum processes, and it’s inadequate,” said Mendez-Zamora. “It’s creating a gap.”
Haitians, who face crisis levels of gang violence while still recovering from a catastrophic 2021 earthquake, are risking their lives to enter the U.S.
“These new policies will undoubtedly have a disparate impact on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people seeking safety,” Petit said in a statement. “Fighting for the soul of the nation takes more than words, it must be reflected in the actions that this administration takes, especially the actions that affect the most vulnerable. While Congress must work with the Biden administration to pass legislation that would provide a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants in the U.S., we also need President Biden and VP Harris to lead by example and champion the right to seek asylum, and most of all, legal and humane immigration processes.”
Migrants and asylum seekers are also risking their lives waiting for entry from Mexico. Just last week, Univision broke the news of a 17-year-old Cuban teenager who was shot and killed while forced to wait in Mexico for an asylum appointment.
“There could be no clearer message that an ‘apply from afar’ parole program is not a substitute for the right to seek asylum,” said Jennifer Nagda, policy director at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, in a statement. “It could be an excellent additional mechanism for safe migration to the U.S. But it simply does not work for children and families who have experienced or who fear persecution in their countries. The Biden Administration must take steps to promptly end Title 42 and reinstate the right to asylum for everyone seeking safety in the U.S., so that no more children—or their families—face this horrific and preventable outcome.”
Mendez-Zamora hopes President Biden will make good on his campaign promises by ending Title 42 and granting Temporary Protected Status to Nicaragua, which would protect over 35,000 Nicaraguans currently in the country.
“The Biden administration should be taking steps to restore asylum law at ports of entry, not hinder vulnerable migrants from reaching the promise of this country, a country that has depended and thrived on immigration for generations,” said Mendez-Zamora in a statement.