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President of the United States - Joe Biden | Credits: AP Photo
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Biden Administration faces GOP criticism over immigration policy in legislative talks

United States: President Joe Biden is pressing for an agreement on border security and Ukraine financing, but a main source of contention in legislative negotiations has been whether to keep the president’s authority to accept migrants into the United States in rare situations during calamities or worldwide upheaval.

Republicans Challenge Humanitarian Parole Provision

Republicans criticize the provision, known as humanitarian parole, as a Biden administration end run around Congress that permits a significant number of migrants into the United States, further taxing an already overburdened immigration system.

US House of Republican Representatives | Credits: Reuters

Historical Precedent for Humanitarian Parole

However, such power to grant occasion-al entry of certain immigrants is not an ancient novelty. It has been applied everywhere on the political spectrum, from admitting people of Hungary in the 1950s, Vietnam in the mid-seventies, and Iraqi Kurds in 1980. It can be a lifesaver for recipients.

“The parole gave me this opportunity; it has made me realize my dreams, my life,” said Emilia Ferrer Triay, who came from Cuba in 1980 as a young girl. “Everything changed from the first day I arrived; I saw that I had a future … that there were no restrictions.”

Ferrer was rescued from the Atlantic Ocean between Key West, Florida, and Cuba, together with her uncles and younger brother, who had attempted to reach the United States by fishing boat. They were among the more than 125,000 Cubans that crossed from Mariel Harbor to the United States that year.

Ferrer, now 57, stated that she had the opportunity to attend school and learn English from the start before enrolling in college. She works full-time and is married with three children born in the United States. She became a citizen eight years after her arrival.

“I would be very unhappy if I had to stay in Cuba,” she said. “You have no future; you can’t dream. Here, I have been able to do everything.”

Immigration Policy Under Scrutiny

Immigration preoccupies voters more and more, being a major factor in the 2014 election. However, the Democratic administration has come under fierce attacks from Republicans who claim that its policy strategy only helps more illegal migrants to cross over into the US through the Mexico border.

“To the American people, what the Biden administration is doing is illegal. It is incentivizing illegal immigration,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 

Visual Representation for Immigration law | Credits: GTs

He said parole was the administration’s “tool of choice” that has allowed too many people into the US.

The Evolution of the US Immigration System

However, the United States immigration system has been progressively stretched for years, with each presidential administration pushing the bounds of executive power while Congress has consistently declined to act on immigration policy. The Biden administration’s policy, which aims to reduce illegal crossings while offering up new options for those arriving by plane with sponsors, is just the latest in a long line of attempts to govern the country’s immigration system.

The authority used by the administration is known as “parole” since migrants would normally be detained while their immigration cases were heard. Instead, they are “paroled” or admitted into the United States. However, the authority is unrelated to the criminal justice concept of a person who has been paroled from jail after serving time following a conviction.

Biden Administration’s Use of “Parole” Authority

With the emergence of Biden, humanitarian parole has significantly contributed to the US’s practices in regard to handling immigrants. The US dropped off nearly eighty thousand Afghans from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, and brought them to the US after the Taliban’s takeover. In the United States, it has admitted tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees after this Russian invasion.

In January 2023, the administration declared that it would accept in one month thirty thousand people from Cuba, Haiti, Neparaguaa, and Venezuela provided they had a financial sponsor who flew to the US, not via Mexican border entry into its territory. The United States has developed an online application tool that persons can access from their locations rather than traveling to the country.

“That is a great model for the future that we have also seen reduce congestion at the border,” said Andrea Flores, who worked as a policy adviser in the Obama and Biden administrations and is now a vice president at FWD.us, an immigration advocacy organization.

Over the years, parole has been used to provide a quick haven. Administration officials are hesitant to limit the ability to utilize the authority not only now but also in the future.

“It is very important to understand that it is used today as a way that the administration is able to better manage the flow, in a playful way, of individuals to the border,” said Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in Senate negotiations.

Political journalist Marcelo Conde departed Nicaragua last year after receiving death threats because he did not support President Daniel Ortega. Conde was afraid that if he left Nicaragua lawfully, he would be seized and imprisoned because officials recognized his name on his passport.

Proposed Solutions and Concerns in Legislative Talks

“The parole became an opportunity, but also a dichotomy because it was not approved quickly,” Conde, 34, said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas. “I waited for more than 100 days,” he said.

After arriving in the United States, he was granted work authorization. In Nevada, he waits tables. Conde speaks Spanish, French, and English and intends to work as a journalist in the United States.

Republican senators have voted down any additional aid for Ukraine or Israel unless immigration policy changes are made in the US. The talks have gone on for weeks, and both sides say they are close to an agreement; the Senate may consider the bill as early as next week.

After these days, the negotiators have talked about various setups, including caps on how many migrants may be qualified for parole, among others, to AP, two individuals who spoke anonymously since this was a private talk.

“Let’s find a way to get a clear definition and figure out how to resolve this,” said Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, the top Republican negotiator.

Lankford cited the online application for migrants seeking parole. “It’s a continual draw to the border to just bring more people to it,” he went on to say.

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