Humanitarian passwords under Biden get a lot of people: legal immigration to the United States broke a 30-year record
The administration of US President Joe Biden has taken in more than half a million migrants as part of programs aimed at reducing illegal entry across the border and providing asylum to refugees. Writes about it CBS News.
The presidential administration used a 1950s law to launch the largest expansion of legal immigration in modern US history.
In less than two years, the administration has allowed at least 541 migrants into the US through the humanitarian parole, which gives federal officials the power to allow visa-free aliens to enter.
The unprecedented use of the right to password allowed officials to divert migration away from the southern border by offering would-be migrants a legal and safe alternative to traveling to the US with the help of smugglers and entering the country illegally.
This, among other things, gave the administration a faster way to resettle the refugees. Biden is trying to restore a resettlement system gutted by the drastic cutbacks of the Donald Trump presidency.
Officials used the humanitarian parole to receive some 168 US-sponsored Latin American and Caribbean migrants; 400 American-sponsored Ukrainian refugees; 141 asylum seekers waiting to be met in Mexico; 200 Afghans evacuated. The data shows that 133 Ukrainians have been processed at the US southern border.
Taken together, the Biden administration's humanitarian immigrant password programs represent the most significant expansion of legal immigration in three decades. And, to the dismay of Republican critics, the administration did so unilaterally, without the explicit consent of Congress, which has not increased legal immigration levels since 1990.
To live and work legally in the US, immigrants generally must have a visa or approved refugee status. But a law passed back in 1952 allows officials to use a humanitarian password to admit those without a visa if it furthers an "urgent humanitarian" purpose or "significant public good." While it does not entitle migrants to permanent status or citizenship, the password allows them to legally live and work in the US for one or two years, which is renewable.
Doris Meisner, a senior US immigration official during the Reagan and Clinton administrations, said there was precedent for the use of a humanitarian password to resettle refugees. During the Cold War, Republican and Democratic administrations issued a password to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing communism in Cuba, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. But Meisner said the Biden administration's use of the humanitarian password is historic.
“On this scale and in this period of time, this is unprecedented,” said Meisner, who led the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000.
Leon Rodriguez, who served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during Barack Obama's second term, explained that the widespread use of the humanitarian parole had become a "necessity", the Biden administration acknowledging that it could not address migration flows through containment alone.
"It's fair to say that there's a lot more pressure right now, so the number of these programs is probably the largest we've seen in a long time," Rodriguez said.
How the Biden administration used the humanitarian password
The Biden administration's first large-scale use of the humanitarian password came in the summer of 2021, when it invoked a law to relocate tens of thousands of Afghans following a massive airlift from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Then, in early 2022, the administration used the right to a humanitarian parole for thousands of Ukrainians who flew to the US-Mexico border in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. To discourage future arrivals of Ukrainians along the southern border, officials created a program known as "Unity for Ukraine," allowing Ukrainians to fly directly to the US to receive a humanitarian parole if they have American sponsors.
In October 2022, the administration created another humanitarian password sponsorship program based on the Ukrainian model for Venezuelan migrants who crossed the US-Mexico border in record numbers. In January, this program was expanded to include immigrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua and to prevent illegal border crossings by citizens of these countries affected by the crisis.
That same month, the US began allowing migrants in Mexico to use a mobile app known as CBP One to request entry into the country at a legal port of entry. Those who are allowed to enter the US through this process usually receive a one or two year password and go through an immigration court hearing where they can apply for asylum.
The Biden administration has also used the humanitarian parole on a smaller scale to welcome deported U.S. military veterans, families of migrants separated under the Trump administration, at-risk Central American minors with family members in the U.S., and Cubans and Haitians with American relatives.
The number of migrants receiving a humanitarian parole in the US is expected to grow even more. The program, based on the CBP One app, currently allows up to 529 migrants to be processed each year, while the sponsorship program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans has an annual ceiling of 250. Unity for Ukraine has no cap.
In addition, the Biden administration is enacting another program that will allow migrants from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to enter the US under a humanitarian parole if the government has approved visa petitions filed by their US citizen relatives or residents.
The Biden administration said the use of the humanitarian parole allowed the US to resettle at-risk refugees, reunite families and ease pressure on the US-Mexico border. Officials, for example, believe that the CBP One app and program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, as well as stricter asylum rules, have contributed to a sharp drop in illegal crossings along the southern border in recent weeks.
But the widespread use of the humanitarian password has drawn sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers and officials, who have accused the Biden administration of abusing power and circumventing congressional restrictions on work and immigrant visas.
In an ongoing lawsuit challenging policies on Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans, Republican-led states have called the initiative an "illegal program" that imposes a financial burden on American communities through social and health care costs.
"The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under the false pretense of preventing foreigners from illegally crossing the border between ports of entry, has effectively created a new visa program - without the formalities of Congressional legislation," opponents said.
DHS officials countered that the administration's use of the humanitarian password is legal because, despite the large-scale nature of the programs, immigration officials still make individual decisions about whether immigrants should receive a password, and some applicants are denied entry. All recipients of the humanitarian password go through a security check, officials said.
“Judicial decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. And that is why we believe very strongly that this is within our legal authority and that this use of the password is consistent with how the humanitarian password has been used in the past,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Over the past decades, Democratic and Republican administrations have developed humanitarian password programs; although they were much smaller in scope, like the processes for families of military personnel and Cuban doctors created under President George W. Bush. The Trump administration has tried to drastically reduce the use of the humanitarian password, but still kept some programs.
DHS officials have assured the administration that its humanitarian parole processes should not be grouped together as they arose from different circumstances. Officials noted that in the same period that more than half a million people received the password, the US deported or expelled migrants more than 3 million times, largely in line with the now-expired COVID-19 pandemic border measure known as Title 42.
“Over the past two years, more people have been deported than humanitarian passwords have been issued. Combining very different humanitarian password processes that serve very different purposes is misleading and wrong,” said DHS spokesman Nari Ketudat.
Programs for Afghans and Ukrainians were created in connection with emergency situations. The humanitarian password process for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans was created to prevent illegal migration and as part of an agreement in which Mexico agreed to accept migrants from those countries who enter the US illegally. Unlike these programs, officials say, migrants undergoing CBP One are subject to deportation in addition to the humanitarian parole.
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While DHS officials said they see the programs as "very different" forms of humanitarian password, one admitted that "it's technically the same framework that allows immigrants to enter the US."
While migrant advocates generally welcomed the administration's use of the humanitarian password, they expressed concern that hundreds of thousands of migrants were stuck in legal limbo without a path to permanent legal status. The Republican administration will be able to cancel their password.
“This is an uncertain situation for hundreds of thousands of people. But at the same time, it is security and protection for the moment,” Meisner said.
During the Cold War, Congress passed several laws granting persons with a humanitarian parole the right to permanent residence in the country. But the chances of this deeply divided Congress doing it again are slim, even for bipartisan populations like evacuated Afghans.
DHS officials expect migrants to leave the US after their humanitarian password expires unless they apply for programs such as asylum or visas for American relatives and receive permanent status.
“If after two years they do not find a legal way to the United States, we will seek the expulsion of these individuals,” one of the officials concluded.
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