State Attorneys General have filed a lawsuit to end parole programs that data show might be the most effective approach to reducing illegal entry into the United States since the Bracero Program. Encounters with Border Patrol agents have dropped significantly for individuals from the four countries eligible for the parole programs, which allow for lawful entry with U.S. sponsors. Critics of the lawsuit note the attorneys general would not support ending an immigration enforcement policy that had proven to be this effective in discouraging illegal entry into the United States.
The Numbers Tell A Story Of Effectiveness
While human rights advocates note treating people fairly should be a primary aim of U.S. immigration policy, border numbers have dominated the public debate. Largely ignored, according to experts on the region, is that the Western Hemisphere is experiencing a historic refugee crisis. Approximately 7.1 million refugees and migrants have left Venezuela since 2015 due to the political and economic crisis. People have also fled Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua in large numbers because of the dire situations in those nations.
In January 2023, to provide legal pathways, the Biden administration announced parole programs for up to 30,000 individuals a month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to enter the United States with a U.S. sponsor. The parole programs have produced dramatic results and almost unprecedented effectiveness in reducing illegal entry as measured by encounters with Border Patrol agents. The policies also represent a humane alternative to forcing individuals to seek protection by entering through dangerous routes between ports of entry because legal access to the United States is blocked.
The number of Border Patrol encounters at the Southwest border declined by nearly 98% for Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela as a group between December 2022 and February 2023, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis. Border Patrol encounters for all other countries not in the parole programs fell by only 8% during this period.
Border Patrol encounters with Cubans along the Southwest border dropped by 99.6% from 42,616 to 176 between December 2022 and February 2023. Border Patrol encounters declined by 77% for Venezuelans (from 6,182 to 1,451) and 99% for Nicaraguans (35,361 to 402) between December 2022 and February 2023.
During the same period, Border Patrol encounters with three Central American countries without access to parole programs changed little. Border Patrol encounters with Salvadorans along the Southwest border rose by 6% between December 2022 and February 2023. Border Patrol encounters declined by only 2% for Guatemalans (from 14,245 to 13,942) and 4% for Hondurans (10,328 to 9,952) between December 2022 and February 2023.
The number of Border Patrol encounters in February 2023 for individuals from those Central American countries without access to the parole programs (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) were far higher than their neighbors in Nicaragua and Venezuela eligible for the parole programs.
Attorneys General Lawsuit
In January 2023, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Republican attorneys general filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the parole programs for Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. The filing argued the parole programs are unlawful. The U.S. Department of Justice was scheduled to reply to the motion by March 24, 2023. An injunction could halt the parole programs, reversing the immigration gains from providing a legal pathway for individuals from the four countries.
The judge would need to override the president’s authority to negotiate with a foreign country since the parole program is part of an agreement with Mexico. “Mexico has agreed to accept up to 30,000 migrants each month from the four countries who attempt to walk or swim across the U.S.-Mexico border and are turned back,” reports PBS. “[T]he U.S. cannot easily send back people from those four countries for a variety of reasons that include relations with the governments there.”
The Mexican government agreed to accept more individuals from the four countries expelled from the United States in conjunction with the parole programs. If the parole programs are stopped, Mexico might no longer accept returnees from the countries.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) announced he will introduce a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to end the parole programs. “We need to have orderly, humane and legal immigration and stop the drugs coming across the border. What we are doing now does not work.” Ironically, ending the parole programs, as Sen. Cornyn advocates, would stop the most “orderly, humane and legal” way the United States has found to reduce illegal entry in more than 60 years.
The Bracero Program
Before the parole programs, the only other effective way to reduce illegal entry significantly has been to provide greater opportunities to work legally in the United States. Increasing the lawful admission of farmworkers in the 1950s under the Bracero Program significantly reduced unlawful entry to the United States, according to NFAP research. After legal admissions from the Bracero Program increased, illegal entry declined by 95% between 1953 and 1959 as measured by apprehensions at the border.
The Bracero Program proved the most effective policy the U.S. government ever established to reduce illegal entry. “Without question the bracero program was . . . instrumental in ending the illegal alien problem of the mid-1940’s and 1950’s,” according to the Congressional Research Service. (The Bracero Program ended in 1964.)
The Trump administration relied on harsh immigration enforcement policies but Border Patrol data show the policies were ineffective in reducing illegal entry. Under Trump, apprehensions at the Southwest border, a proxy for illegal entry, increased by more than 100 percent between FY 2016 and FY 2019 (from 408,870 to 851,508). With the pandemic in 2020, Border Patrol encounters initially declined. However, Border Patrol encounters on the Southwest border rose from 16,182 in April 2020 to 69,032 by October 2020, a 327% increase. (The Border Patrol reported encounters in place of apprehensions beginning in March 2020 due to the use of the Title 42 health authority.)
The parole programs for Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been extraordinarily effective in reducing illegal entry as measured by Border Patrol encounters along the Southwest border. Supporters argue the parole programs have offered a humane, lawful and orderly way for individuals to enter the United States. Border Patrol data show ending the parole programs will likely increase illegal entry and make seeking protection in the United States more dangerous.