Last week, applications opened for the new Venezuelan parole program, providing a streamlined pathway to the U.S. for Venezuelans with a U.S.-based sponsor.
Just three days after the program launch, the Associated Press reported that 7,500 sponsor applications were submitted, hundreds were approved, and the first Venezuelans benefitting from parole had already arrived in the U.S. For an immigration bureaucracy so often mired in backlogs and inefficiencies, the initial speed of this program is striking.
Still, despite demonstrated interest from the American public, the program is capped at 24,000 beneficiaries, a meager figure considering the staggering number of Venezuelans seeking refuge.
The Biden administration did not indicate the reasoning behind the 24,000. Although caps are common in our immigration system, the closest analog to this program — Uniting For Ukraine (U4U) — operates without one. Since April, U4U has facilitated the arrival of approximately 70,000 Ukrainians, a sharp contrast with the cap imposed on the Venezuela program.
Given the initial demand from sponsors, the urgent need to help and protect Venezuelans, and a well-functioning approval process, we can and should increase the cap.
The parole program is part of an arrangement between the U.S. and Mexican governments to strengthen regional migration management. Both countries want to monitor the program outcomes and new migration trends that emerge from the creation of the parole program and the U.S. extension of Title 42 expulsions. The cap functions as a down payment for enhanced cooperation. The arrangement between the U.S. and Mexico is merely a week old, so we expect both governments to assess the program in the coming weeks and hopefully decide that cap expansion is warranted.
DHS officials have signaled their openness to increase the cap but want to see proof of interest from U.S. sponsors before acting on it (they also want to make sure Mexico holds up its side of the agreement). The first reported figures indicate there is indeed significant interest among potential sponsors, with the 7,500 applications submitted in the first three days of the Venezuelan parole program outpacing the 4,000 U4U applications in a comparable time frame.
Quickly reaching 24,000 registered sponsors would signal to the administration that support for the program is popular, widespread, and sustainable — and expansion is warranted.
In addition to increased demand from sponsors, this program has also resulted in faster processing times from the government. It took more than two weeks for the first U4U beneficiaries to arrive in the U.S., compared to just three days for the Venezuelan program.
This first week has demonstrated that DHS is processing applications and approving sponsors quicker for the Venezuelan program. It took two weeks for 24,000 Ukrainian sponsors to register, five weeks for 24,000 Ukrainians to be approved, and 10 weeks for those individuals to arrive. The Venezuelan program should exceed those numbers handily in terms of speed.
Speed, in this case, is vital to its success, as the program aims to persuade Venezuelans to forgo the treacherous journey north and apply through the orderly, legal parole process. Potential migrants need tangible evidence — based on their peers’ experience —that they can access the U.S. through this pathway without arduous hoop-jumping or months-long delays.
Trust in the program’s promise, and maintaining efficient processing times, are key to program’s success from both sponsor and beneficiary perspectives. This trust is also instrumental for the Biden administration’s broader strategy to transform irregular migration into orderly, legal pathways.
It is worth noting that newly-paroled Venezuelans are likely to transition to life in the U.S. even more seamlessly than newly-welcomed Ukrainians. Resources for Spanish speakers are plentiful and widespread, and many U.S. citizens can, to some degree, communicate in the language.
The government also benefits from the six months of experience operating a similar program, as does the private sector. Led by Welcome.us, a coalition of Venezuelan- American groups, civil society organizations, and charities are mobilizing, having already distributed materials to aid sponsors in the sponsorship process.
With just two weeks left until the midterm elections and many crucial races remaining highly competitive, we expect little policymaking to happen in the next few weeks as any policy decision becomes highly politicized. So while a cap increase is possible, it’s unlikely to occur before or in the immediate aftermath of the elections.
Still, given the demonstrated initial interest, it’s a question of when and not if we reach the 24,000 cap. Once that happens, the administration should take swift action by increasing the cap, demonstrating confidence in its proposal, faith in Americans’ generosity, and goodwill towards its suffering neighbors.
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