When Emilio Gonzalez ran U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, offering immigrants “parole” into the U.S. was a selective and specialized occasion — the sort of thing he would talk over with other agency chiefs before personally making an approval.
It was reserved, he said, for tricky situations such as allowing in a child for a lifesaving surgery available only in the U.S.
“It was always used sparingly because it kind of falls outside the normal immigration channels,” Mr. Gonzalez told The Washington Times.
In the hands of the Biden administration, however, parole has become the backbone of policy toward illegal immigrants. Afghans, Ukrainians and illegal border crossers have been granted admission under the Department of Homeland Security’s parole powers.
The administration this month announced the most aggressive expansion to date, saying it has created a program to proactively grant parole to 30,000 Venezuelans, Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans each month, effectively building a backdoor immigration system to try to put many current illegal immigrants onto a potentially legal path.
“The policymakers have definitely put the attorneys in a difficult position to try to come up with something that will not get them laughed out of court — or get them disbarred,” said Robert Law, a senior official at Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Trump administration.
It’s difficult to get a handle on the overall number of people paroled, but it runs into the many hundreds of thousands over the past year.
Under the law, parole is supposed to be reserved for individual cases where there is a “significant public benefit” or “urgent humanitarian reasons.” Analysts say the public benefit is meant for cases such as when someone is needed to testify in court. The humanitarian category is meant for instances such as the lifesaving care cases Mr. Gonzalez described.
The thought was they would return home after the parole period ended.
In recent years, however, it has become a safety valve for the surge of migrants at the border who have figured out the pressure points in the U.S. immigration system. Under the law, they are supposed to be detained until a decision can be rendered on their cases, but with detention space limited, the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations have all used parole to catch and release people.
Now the Biden team has taken it a step further by creating programs for people who haven’t arrived but hope to come, not just for a temporary reason such as a medical procedure, but to immigrate and settle.
Up to 30,000 people each month from Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua will be admitted for a two-year parole, Mr. Biden announced. He hasn’t said what would happen at the end of that parole, though few expect the government to try to get them to leave.
The same is true of the hundreds of thousands caught and released on parole at the border.
It’s giving would-be illegal immigrants exactly what they wanted, Mr. Gonzalez said.
“You’re basically taking the universe of people that would normally be turned down, based on that statistic, and legalizing them,” he told The Washington Times. “Because once you give them parole, they’re allowed to come into the U.S., they’re allowed to work for a two-year period. And everybody knows the two-year period will be permanent.”
He said the real beneficiaries are adversarial governments such as Cuba and Venezuela, which would be all too happy to have people reach the U.S., where they can work and send money back home, propping up tottering economies with critical cash.
Photos on social media show Cubans queueing up back home to obtain the documents they need to apply for the U.S. parole program.
“It’s the weaponization of migration. We’re playing defense,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “I guarantee you if tomorrow we had an onslaught of Peruvians, rather than figure out how to stop that, they would figure out a program to accommodate 200,000 Peruvians.”
The Biden administration coupled the new parole program with a get-tough policy. Officials said they will use Title 42 expulsion powers pioneered by the Trump administration to kick out up to 30,000 Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians a month if they are caught entering the U.S. without permission.
That’s likely to draw legal action from immigrant rights groups, which question the use of expulsions. Meanwhile, Republican-led states are challenging the president’s expansive claims of parole.
In a legal filing justifying the parole program, Homeland Security said it meets the “urgent humanitarian needs” test in the law by giving people in troubled countries “a safe mechanism” to escape.
Homeland Security said it meets the “public benefit” test because parole converts some of those coming illegally into legal entrants. That allows authorities to run at least some checks on people before they arrive.
The department said parole eases the lives of the migrants, who won’t have to pay smugglers and make treacherous journeys.
The law requires parole to be granted on a case-by-case basis. The regulatory filing repeatedly claims that is what the new policy does, but experts said it’s tough to square that claim with the massive numbers the administration is eyeing.
“There’s no case-by-case determination,” said Mr. Law, who is now director of the America First Policy Institute’s center on homeland security and immigration. “The administration has set the criteria, and it appears every alien that can check off every one of those boxes applicable will get it. That means there is no critical thinking going into that eligibility.”
The Supreme Court flirted with the legality of parole during oral arguments last year on a case dealing with catch-and-release and the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy.
The Biden administration was trying to cancel that Trump program and instead use parole powers to facilitate catch-and-release of new arrivals.
Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said using parole on rank-and-file illegal immigrants meant the administration could save its detention bed space for more serious immigration cases in which major criminal records were involved.
“In a world where we don’t have sufficient beds as everyone acknowledges, there is an imperative public interest in ensuring that we are detaining the people who might be criminals or who might abscond or who threaten our national security,” she told the justices.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that might be a stretch.
“It gets to a question of the parole — interpretation of the parole provision and whether or not, I think, significant public benefit can accommodate as — as far as you want to stretch it,” he said.
He sided with Ms. Prelogar in that case, but a challenge to the new program could present the parole question more squarely.
Mr. Biden also may face scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where Republicans now control the House and have more power to probe the administration’s actions.
Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, and Sen. J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican, led a letter with nearly three dozen other lawmakers blasting the new parole program.
“It’s unclear where the department derives legal authority to parole groups of this size and how this policy change enhances border security,” Mr. Biggs said. “As usual, the department has some explaining to do.”