Earlier this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent approximately 50 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. In doing so, DeSantis joins Texas governor Greg Abbott and Arizona governor Doug Ducey in sending migrants to “liberal” cities and states.
There is much that has been written and could be written about the incoherence of these political stunts (the migrants sent to Martha’s Vineyard were originally in Texas), their callousness (local authorities were not warned to prepare), and the dubious ethics behind them (the migrants were deceptively lured onto the plane by an unknown person).
In addition to those broader criticisms, there are two key points to examine: first, the existing response from local individuals and organizations, and second, the policy solutions that should augment these existing efforts.
Despite a lack of adequate notice about the arrival of migrants and ill-prepared local government offices, several volunteer groups and individuals have stepped up to aid the relocated migrants. In Martha’s Vineyard, locals have helped to provide food, water, and translation services for the migrants. While these efforts are no substitute for meaningful government action, they can be supplemented through existing policy frameworks.
Last month, we published a proposal for the administration to launch “Volunteering For Venezuela,” an expansion of the popular and successful Uniting For Ukraine program.
Based on the success of a similar program for Ukrainians, under this model, the Department of Homeland Security could extend humanitarian parole to Venezuelans for two years if they have a U.S.-based sponsor willing to provide them financial support. The recipients of this parole have to pass security screenings, while interested sponsors are also required to pass background checks and prove they have financial means.
This program has seen significant success so far. More than 120,000 U.S. sponsors have registered, more than 50,000 Ukrainians have arrived, and tens of thousands more have been approved to travel — and there is every reason to expect that it would also be successful with Venezuelan refugees.
This proposal is not a magic bullet or a perfect solution. While reporting from the ground suggests that many refugees are Venezuelan, it is clear that not all are. This proposal is also a short-term measure and not a long-term fix for the refugees who arrive here. Nevertheless, given the urgency of the migrant situation, the administration could immediately enhance, protect, and encourage volunteer efforts on the ground through this policy change.
As we wrote last month, “Launching V4V could mitigate some irregular migration, as occurred with Ukrainian migrants after the launch of U4U. Reducing the surge of Venezuelans would also help ease the strain on the Mexican immigration enforcement authorities, whom the U.S. relies on to manage regional migration.” In fact, within one month of Uniting for Ukraine’s launch, encounters with Ukrainians at the southwest border decreased by over 98 percent. We wouldn’t expect that same figure, but some Venezuelans with U.S. sponsors will choose the formal pathway.
The Texas, Arizona, and Florida governors have spent millions of dollars to further their argument that Americans in other states should also be responsible for caring for newly arriving migrants. They should be the first ones speaking up in support of a policy change that would allow willing citizens to do just that.
We believe the success of the Uniting for Ukraine program model, the bipartisan calls for protection, and the strong community of Venezuelans in the U.S. underscore the urgency of expanding the model to Venezuelans, particularly given the regional implications of the deteriorating situation there. The Uniting model is part of a broader border management strategy, streamlining temporary admission for vulnerable migrants with U.S. sponsors.
As we have argued, President Biden can rely on a new sponsorship initiative to protect the human rights of the victims of an authoritarian regime, reduce border crossings, and leverage private sector enthusiasm around supporting refugees.
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