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The Biden administration has announced the upcoming launch of a new immigration program aimed at facilitating legal entry into the U.S. for certain Central Americans and Colombians. This initiative, set to commence on July 10, is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to dissuade individuals from these countries from making illegal border crossings into the U.S.
Under this program, eligible migrants from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who have U.S. citizen or legal resident relatives can fly to the U.S. and obtain government work permits. To qualify, individuals must have family members who have filed visa applications on their behalf. This program, called the Family Reunification Parole Process, is part of a broader plan by the Biden administration to address unlawful crossings along the U.S.-Mexico border. While officials have not provided a specific timeframe for fulfilling their commitment to welcome up to 100,000 Central American migrants, the program aims to assist these individuals.
The process begins with U.S. citizens or permanent residents filing immigrant visa requests for their relatives in the four aforementioned countries. Qualifying family members include adult children and siblings of U.S. citizens, as well as children and spouses of permanent residents. Once the petitions are approved, applicants may receive an invitation to apply for their relatives to come to the U.S. more quickly than they would through the current visa system, which is backlogged and subject to numerical caps. Many individuals with U.S. family members often face wait times of several years or even more than a decade for immigrant visas to become available.
The State Department is expected to begin sending out invitations for the program later in July, according to a Homeland Security spokesperson. If selected and approved, the relatives will be allowed to enter the U.S. under humanitarian parole authority, which also grants them legal employment. Once their visa becomes available, these migrants can apply for permanent residency, commonly known as a green card.
It’s important to note that individuals who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without permission or are intercepted at sea after July 10 will be disqualified from the program.
Government data suggests that over 70,000 individuals could immediately qualify for the program. As of late May, there were approximately 17,400 Colombians, 32,600 Salvadorans, 12,800 Guatemalans, and 10,700 Hondurans waiting in the family-based immigrant visa backlog with approved petitions. However, officials anticipate that not all of these migrants will be invited into the program.
The Biden administration refers to this program as “an alternative to irregular migration to help relieve pressure at the Southwest Border” in notices implementing the initiative. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas stated that the expansion of safe, orderly, and lawful pathways, combined with strong enforcement, has proven effective in reducing dangerous and irregular migration to the United States.
According to federal figures for fiscal year 2023, U.S. immigration authorities have processed over 126,000 Colombians, 115,000 Guatemalans, 41,000 Salvadorans, and 110,000 Hondurans at the southwest border.
Earlier in President Biden’s term, his administration revived two parole programs from the Obama and Bush eras that provide similar opportunities for Cubans and Haitians with U.S. relatives.
Expanding legal migration has become a key aspect of the Biden administration’s strategy to curb unauthorized border crossings, which reached record levels in 2022. In addition to the parole programs for Cubans and Haitians, the administration has used parole authority to admit up to 30,000 individuals with U.S. sponsors from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela each month. They have also processed tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Mexico who have secured appointments to enter the U.S. through a government app.
Simultaneously, the administration has increased deportations and implemented stricter asylum rules for migrants who do not utilize these programs. A regulation enacted in May disqualifies migrants from asylum if they enter the U.S. without seeking humanitarian protection in another country first. Those unable to prove eligibility for an exemption to this rule face deportation and a five-year ban on reentry.
The administration attributes the decrease in unlawful border entries since May to these measures, as U.S. officials discontinued the pandemic-era order known as Title 42, which allowed for the expulsion of migrants on public health grounds.