Republicans Are Lying About One Major Way Biden Has Decreased U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings

A Biden administration program that successfully lowered unlawful border crossings has turned into the latest immigration bogeyman.

While most of the debate over immigration focuses on the U.S.-Mexico border, one of President Joe Biden’s most effective policies so far has occurred elsewhere ― at airports.

For a little over a year, Biden has used what’s called “parole” authority to collectively allow up to 30,000 vetted Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans per month into the country, mostly via air travel, for a temporary two-year window.

The program is based on the authority held by the federal government under the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act to grant temporary admission to foreigners on a “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.” And, the Biden administration touts, it has been accompanied by drops in the number of nationals from each of these countries who’ve crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on foot.

But to hear some right-wingers talk about it, the “CHNV parole” program the name an acronym for the nationalities it encompasses — is a secret, treasonous endeavor that utilizes government-funded charter flights to transport “illegal” migrants into the United States. None of that is true, but that doesn’t seem to be the point.

“I don’t know of anyone in Congress who knew this!” exclaimed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on a podcast episode, just 14 months after Biden himself announced the CHNV parole program during a public press briefing and despite regular publications of data on the program by the Department of Homeland Security.

The false accusations of secret taxpayer-funded charter flights ferrying unvetted migrants to new lives in the United States plays into Republican attempts to cast immigration issues as a major crisis — and one on which Democrats are failing — ahead of the 2024 election.

Former President Donald Trump and others in the Republican Party have been playing up immigration rhetoric that echoes the white nationalist “great replacement” conspiracy theory, claiming Biden’s immigration policies are really an effort to replace white Americans with “other” voters more willing to vote for the left ― or as Trump called it Saturday, a “conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.”

At the same time, Republicans earlier this year scuttled a bipartisan deal on immigration despite it being full of GOP priorities, following pressure from Trump, the likely Republican nominee for president, to not give Biden a victory to point to ahead of November’s election.

In reality, presidents of both parties have used the parole power for decades, a review from the libertarian Cato Institute found. The first large-scale use of parole came in 1954, when Ellis Island and other immigration detention centers closed and the detainees there were paroled into the United States. Later presidents used parole to allow entry for the refugees of the Vietnam War, targeted minority groups and Cubans under the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. Biden himself has used parole to ease the entry of Afghans in 2021 and Ukrainian refugees in 2022.

The precedent to the CHNV parole program was introduced in October 2022, when the Department of Homeland Security created a parole program for Venezuelans that was modeled on the Ukrainian program, requiring applicants to have a U.S.-based sponsor who’s financially able to support them and to pass vetting and background checks. In January 2023, the White House announced the program would expand to include Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua.

Individuals from those four counties who meet the requirements and haven’t attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry are allowed to fly from their home countries into the United States rather than appearing in person at land border crossings.

Since January 2023, more than “386,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans arrived lawfully and were granted parole under the parole processes,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection wrote in a February 2024 update.

“There’s no doubt that the CHNV program is by far the largest-scale parole program that any administration has done in decades,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a research and legal advocacy organization.

And data supports the administration’s claim that the parole program, as part of a larger package, has helped discourage “irregular” migration.

As the Cato Institute reported in September, illegal entries by Venezuelans fell 66% from September 2022 to July 2023 and from December 2022 to July 2023, illegal entries fell 77% for Haitians, 98% for Cubans and 99% for Nicaraguans. Compared with peaks in CHNV numbers in 2021 and 2022, the report added, July 2023 arrests for those four nationalities were down 90%.

“There has not been a single month where unlawful entries of the four countries combined has been above the level it was in December 2022,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

The White House announced the policy as part of a package explicitly meant to “increase security at the border and reduce the number of individuals crossing unlawfully between ports of entry.” The Biden administration grouped the program with others meant to encourage “legal pathways” into the United States ― such as increased refugee admissions and asylum opportunities in other countries ― and alongside harsher border enforcement for migrants who broke the rules.

Naree Ketudat, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, told HuffPost in a statement that the CHNV parole process was part of a strategy to “combine expanded lawful pathways with stronger consequences to reduce irregular migration, and [has] kept hundreds of thousands of people from migrating irregularly.”

And yet many on the right have misrepresented ― or simply lied about ― what the parole program is, playing on anxieties about race and national identity to paint it as part of a supposed scheme by Democrats to overwhelm the country with new residents or somehow displace American citizens.

Joe Biden greenlit the secret flight program that transported over 320,000 migrants into our communities,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote in a March 24 social media post. “He wants these illegals in our nation.”

Contrary to Blackburn’s post, the program isn’t a “secret,” and participants haven’t broken any laws. Reached for comment on those inaccuracies, Blackburn’s press secretary, Savannah Newhouse, doubled down, saying parole beneficiaries had been “secretly flown” into the United States.

And Cruz, in a podcast taping last month, repeatedly referred to “illegal” immigrants being “secretly” flown into the United States by the Biden administration, which he said had “booked” and “paid for secretive flights of hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants” – all of which is completely false. Cruz’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who last month proposed an unsuccessful amendment to limit the parole authority, falsely described the status quo as “using taxpayer dollars to charter planes that move and import thousands of illegal aliens into your states.”

The senator’s press secretary, Audrey Traynor, continued to call parole participants “illegal aliens” in an email to HuffPost on Monday. She also referred to the parole program as “taxpayer funded,” even though beneficiaries pay for their own expenses.

And Republicans’ Senate campaign arm referred to parole participants as “illegal” and falsely said they were being “resettled” in the United States.

Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, had to take things a step further in a post on X, the social media platform he owns that had been called Twitter.

Parole beneficiaries are vetted with biometrics and background checks, and they are not able to vote. The X platform sent an automated message back in response to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Where The Narrative Started

“This whole thing exploded a month ago,” said Reichlin-Melnick, who has closely tracked lies about the parole program.

Even though the CHNV parole program has been running for more than a year, the recent wave of interest from Republicans seems to have started with a lawsuit over a public records request from the Center for Immigration Studies, a right-wing, anti-immigration think tank.

The group filed a public records request in March 2023 for information about the parole program, including the specific departure and arrival airports of parole beneficiaries. DHS regularly updates data on the nationalities of CHNV parole beneficiaries, and the U.S. government plays no part in arranging the flights, but CIS argues that airport data would provide a fuller picture of parolees’ movements within the United States: Currently, the center says, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has received the blame for influxes of migrants in various cities across the country because of his program of busing migrants around the country, which has so far cost taxpayers roughly $150 million. CIS eventually sued the federal government for the information.

In late February 2024, the Biden administration argued in a court filing that it should not have to release airport data, saying revealing information about specific departure or arrival airports of parole beneficiaries could “reveal operational vulnerabilities that could be exploited.” CIS Senior National Security Fellow Todd Bensman wrote about that statement on the center’s website on March 4, calling parole beneficiaries’ flights “secretive” and the parole program “legally dubious.”

Bensman had written about the CHNV program for months; in an interview last year with Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House strategist, he referred to it as an “airlift.” But his post about “secretive” flights took off, making noise around the world.

That same day, the Daily Mail cited the CIS post in an article that blared, falsely, that the Biden administration was “arranging” beneficiaries’ travel and “secretly” flying them into the United States.

The following day, Trump referenced the CIS report, without directly naming it, in a Super Tuesday speech at his Mar-a-Lago private club and residence in Florida.

“Today it was announced that 325,000 people were flown in from parts unknown, migrants were flown in. Airplanes, not going through borders, not going through that great Texas barrier,” Trump said. “They flew 325,000 migrants, flew them in, over the borders, into our country.”

Fact checkers – at The Associated Press, CNN, Snopes and other organizations – pounced on Trump’s comments. Even Bensman contributed a gentle rebuke, writing that Trump, Musk and others mischaracterized the program.

But he maintained that Trump wasn’t inaccurate in saying individuals “were flown” from “parts unknown” ― a reference to his denied request for records on airport details.

In an email to HuffPost, Bensman defended his characterization of the program, calling data about the airports crucial and faulting the Biden administration for not being more transparent about other programs, such as separate parole programs for people eligible for a family reunification visa, and the use of the CBP One app to schedule land border crossings for people seeking asylum in the United States.

But he said he was “dismayed” at prominent people, “especially conservatives on the far right,” who apparently hadn’t read his work but rather just the tweets about it.

“The main ongoing factual problem is that they keep saying these are taxpayer-funded flights or, worse, taxpayer-funded ‘charter flights,’” he wrote. “What do you do except constantly correct the errors?”

How Parole Has Changed The Border

Advocates for the program say its “carrot and stick” incentives — rewards for those who follow the rules and penalties for those who break them — work together to decrease the rate of border crossings.

For one thing, the parole program is not available to migrants who previously sought to cross the Panama, Mexico or U.S. borders without authorization. Cubans and Haitians are also ineligible if they are intercepted at sea while trying to enter the United States. Also, at the same time the administration announced the parole program in January, it announced an agreement with the Mexican government allowing the monthly expulsion to Mexico of up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who failed to follow a legal pathway into the United States.

Separately, the Biden administration has pursued a policy called Circumvention of Lawful Pathways to allow for expedited removal of asylum seekers who cross the border unlawfully or who did not seek asylum in another country before arriving at the border.

On the flip side, unlike people who cross the southern border seeking asylum, parole beneficiaries can apply for work permits upon entry rather than wait 180 days. And Cubans who participate in the program could eventually find a pathway to citizenship through the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act.

In May 2023, the conservative Manhattan Institute observed that in the first four months after the Biden administration instituted the Venezuelan parole program in October 2022, there had been a 95% reduction in border encounters of Venezuelans. The effect was similar for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans after the program was expanded in January, according to the report.

“Parole programs were more effective at reducing illegal immigration than Title 42 [the pandemic health authority that allowed the government to turn away asylum seekers at the border] because they substantially reduced total immigration by the hundreds of thousands, and shifted immigration to a legal route,” the report’s author, Daniel Di Martino wrote, concluding, “You could say that the Biden parole programs are an immigration restrictionism dream.”

Early dramatic drops in border encounters have leveled off a bit since then, but numbers still show the program has successfully decreased overall numbers of border crossings between ports of entry from the four countries in the program.

“The program has successfully lowered irregular crossings,” Reichlin-Melnick said, granting that the number of people showing up at the border from CHNV counties has fluctuated over time.

A federal judge recently agreed: In January, just a few weeks after the parole program was announced, a group of red states led by Texas sued to stop it in federal court, arguing that the Biden administration had “effectively created a new visa program” and that the program’s beneficiaries would be a burden on state resources. Last month, a Trump-nominated federal judge ruled against them, writing that the states lacked standing to sue in part because the number of people entering the United States from the four countries in question had “dramatically decreased” after the parole program’s implementation.

The states challenging the Biden administration have indicated they will appeal the decision.

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