1.5 million apply to the US Immigrant Sponsorship Program with a monthly cap of 30,000

Washington — In just a few months, the U.S. has received more than 1.5 million applications from individuals hoping to sponsor entry for migrants from four countries, an extraordinary number that could jeopardize the Biden administration’s goal of reducing border crossings, data shows Internal documents obtained by CBS News. .

An influx of hundreds of thousands of sponsorship applications on behalf of would-be migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela has overwhelmed USCIS officials, who can approve no more than 30,000 arrivals under the program. month

US citizens, residents, and others with legal immigration status in the US are eligible to sponsor migrants from these four countries as long as they agree to support them financially. Migrants arriving under the program are granted a two-year work permit under the Humanitarian Parole Authority.

Because of the massive and rapidly growing backlog of pending applications, USCIS recently changed the way it processes these cases by selecting half of the requests it reviews each month through a lottery system. The other half will continue to pass judgment on a first-come, first-served basis.

Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by CBS News showed that as of late last month, the agency was receiving an average of about 12,000 requests a day from those seeking to sponsor Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans by calling a phone number that was “suppressive. The documents stated that applications were processed in less than three days due to the monthly cap of 30,000.

More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in the US under the sponsorship initiative. But the government was monitoring more than 580,000 pending cases for Haitians, more than 380,000 for Cubans, nearly 120,000 for Venezuelans and more than 20,000 for Nicaraguans as of late April. Other cases were reviewed or approved.

A version of the program was first launched in October 2022 to allow Venezuelans with U.S.-based sponsors to fly directly to the U.S. as part of efforts to reduce record arrivals of Venezuelan migrants at the southern border. In January, the initiative was expanded to include Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans, who also traveled to the US-Mexico border in record numbers last year.

Asylum seekers are seen climbing a hill between the US and Mexico
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, United States – 2023/05/12. Asylum seekers are seen climbing a hill between the US-Mexico border to reach the Mexican military who were providing aid alongside US volunteers.

Jon Putman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The sponsored program was coupled with a policy of returning Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans illegally crossing the southern border into Mexico, which agreed to take back these nationalities, first under the now-expired Title 42 public health order, and now regularly. US immigration law.

The combination of repatriation to Mexico with the sponsorship program has resulted in a dramatic decrease in illegal border crossings by these four crisis-affected migrants whose governments do not or cannot accept large numbers of US deportations for diplomatic or operational reasons. the reasons.

Senior White House officials are bragging about the strategy’s success. But the growing number of applications for the sponsorship program, well above the monthly limit of 30,000, threatens to derail the main goal of the policy: encourage would-be migrants to refrain from illegally crossing the southern border by offering them legal entry into the United States. .

Internal DHS documents say hundreds of thousands of pending cases have caused “significant” wait times for applicants. If the monthly threshold is not increased, the effectiveness of the program may decrease.

“Migrants who are desperate, and they are desperate migrants, will only wait until they say, ‘It’s not happening and I’ll take my chances to get something else,’ whether it’s sneaking in or just show up at the border and see if they can be let in,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, a former DHS official and current immigration analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Senior US officials have not indicated that they will raise the 30,000 monthly admissions limit. DHS officials did not say whether they are considering increasing the number of monthly arrivals.

“This administration has presided over the largest expansion of legal pathways in decades, and parole processes for individuals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela are just one of many pathways now available to individuals seeking to enter the United States legally.” DHS said. said in a statement to CBS News on Monday.

The department said it recently decided to use a random selection process to allocate half of the roughly 1,000 travel authorizations issued daily under the program to “ensure that all applicants have the optimism that they will be able to travel to the United States soon.”

“Now in their fifth month, parole processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans have continued to successfully reduce irregular migration, and we expect this to continue, but challenges remain, including ongoing court cases attempting to block this success.” funds,” DHS added. in his statement.

Asylum seekers are loaded into vans to officially appear
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, United States – 2023/05/12. Asylum seekers are loaded into vans to be formally processed into the United States system.

Jon Putman/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In April 2022, the Biden administration launched its first version of the sponsorship policy, creating the United for Ukraine program, which would allow Americans to sponsor Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their homeland. Unlike the next sponsor program, Uniting for Ukraine does not have a numerical threshold. As of early May, 127,000 Ukrainians had arrived in the US under the policy.

A change in the cap on the Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela sponsorship initiative could have legal and foreign relations implications.

The Biden administration and the Mexican government have linked the arrival of up to 30,000 migrants to the U.S. with Mexico’s commitment to accept the return of the same number of Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans turned away by U.S. border officials.

“30,000-for-30,000 is something that has been proven to work, and we are committed, both countries, to continuing the 30,000-for-30,000 deal after May 11,” U.S. told reporters earlier this month. senior official.

The sponsorship policy is also being challenged in federal court by a coalition of Republican-led states that argue the Biden administration lacks legal parole authority to admit up to 360,000 migrants each year outside the regular visa system.

Blas Núñez Neto, the top DHS official for border and immigration policy, said last week that Mexico is “unlikely” to continue accepting returning Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans if the sponsorship program is blocked in court.

Daily illegal border crossings hit a record high of 10,000 earlier this month, shortly before the end of Title 42 public health restrictions on immigration, but have fallen to 3,000 in recent days.

Biden has attributed the sharp drop in border crossings to increased official deportations of illegal entrants and a cap that disenfranchises many migrants, as well as efforts by the military and law enforcement agencies of Mexico and Guatemala to slow U.S.-bound migration. .

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