Addressing the Challenges of Forced Migration at the Border and in our Communities

With the end of Title 42, the Biden administration announced a series of actions to regularize migration and reduce pressure at the border. The centerpiece of this approach is a set of legal pathways that give people the option to come to the United States through immigration parole as long as they have a financial sponsor in the U.S. For two months following the end of Title 42, these legal pathways significantly reduced migration to the southern border and it became clear, once again, that people will utilize legal channels as long as they can access them. These pathways also made thousands of people immediately eligible to apply for work authorization, giving them an opportunity to begin contributing to their new communities soon after they arrived in the United States. 

These legal pathways are critical and they are working—but they are also too limited  at a time when 20 million people are displaced in the Western Hemisphere. While the number of Haitians, Nicaraguans and Cubans crossing between ports of entry has plummeted by over 89% since the end of Title 42, there are no similar pathways for other countries to discourage unauthorized crossings. In particular, existing pathways are insufficient to address the scope of the refugee crisis of 7.3 million Venezuelans having fled their country in recent years. In September, the administration made the right choice to redesignate TPS for an additional 472,000 Venezuelans already living in the United States, but this policy announcement is only one piece of a broader strategy to manage the impact of irregular migration at our southern border.

Latin America and the Caribbean face extreme instability that drives the movement of people across multiple borders in search of safety. As the number of individuals coming to the U.S.-Mexico border as a result of forced migration has again increased in the past two months, the administration should expand its legal pathways strategy and accelerate the implementation of regional processing options to relieve pressure at the southern border. It is also critical that the administration take a central role in coordinating the arrival of asylum seekers once they arrive in the United States by engaging in proactive conversations with interior cities to mitigate resettlement challenges as they struggle to provide wrap-around services, legal support, and housing. 

Currently, states and localities are providing their own transportation from border cities to destinations like New York. Without federal coordination, buses of people seeking asylum will continue to arrive in cities with no advance notice, many of whom have limited information about where they are going or what to do when they get there. Allowing states to assume this transportation responsibility has turned the arrival of asylum seekers into a highly politicized event that is dividing communities on the best way to welcome people seeking asylum. 

While it remains disappointing that Republicans in Congress continue to block immigration reform and Republican Attorneys General are attempting to eliminate the administration’s legal pathways approach through the courts, the Biden administration should take additional action to reduce pressure at the border and provide greater support to cities. 

Address the Refugee Crisis in Venezuela

  • Develop an Emergency Resettlement Plan for Venezuelans: With 7.3 million Venezuelans displaced in our hemisphere, the United States should formally distinguish this population from other forced migrants at the border. In October 2022, the administration followed the success of its Uniting for Ukraine program by creating a similar option for Venezuelans, leading to a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelan asylum seekers at the border. This parole program was a promising start, but the numerical cap and eligibility requirements to utilize parole are too restrictive, meaning that most Venezuelans are still traversing multiple countries to access our asylum system. In September 2023, Venezuelans made up 25% of the unauthorized arrivals at the border. Compounding this challenge is the fact that many Venezuelans lack housing, financial sponsors, or family ties in the United States, and new arrivals will not be eligible for TPS. The administration should be more intentional about resettling this refugee population by expanding their usage of parole for this population, relocating Venezuelans without financial sponsors to U.S. communities who can work with the administration to help them resettle, and updating eligibility requirements for parole so that more Venezuelans can access this lawful pathway. Taking a comprehensive approach to resettling Venezuelans will reduce pressure at the border and allow DHS to focus its resources on other populations.
  • Encourage Regional Country Partners to Help Venezuelans Integrate to Reduce Further Displacement: One of the greatest drivers of Venezuelan displacement is the fact that hundreds of thousands of Venezeulans were initially resettled in other countries, but due to economic constriction, discrimination, and lack of integration support, are now, still unable to return to Venezuela, attempting to find more economic stability in the United States. Following the redesignation of TPS, the administration should encourage our regional partners, including those who initially welcomed Venezuelans, to offer new legal status to help them find work and housing where they currently are and prevent even more cross border movements of this vulnerable population.

Modernize Border Processing and Coordination in the Interior

  • Immediately Expand Access to CBP One and Increase Processing Capacity at Ports of Entry: The estimated wait time for a CBP One appointment is reported to be three months. Due to dangerous conditions in Mexico, these long wait times mean that many migrants have lost faith that they will receive an appointment and are risking their lives to make unauthorized crossings between ports of entry. As part of its strategy of directing asylum seekers to ports of entry, the administration should make more appointments available to restore the belief that this process is working. Additionally, if more people enter the U.S. through CBP One, more new arrivals in cities will be immediately eligible for work authorization.
  • Incentivize Families to Utilize CBP One By Reserving a Set Number of Appointments Solely for Family Units: Families require more space and personnel to safely process at the border and crossing between ports of entry creates life threatening conditions for families traveling with children. Making more CBP One appointments available to families, and making it easier for them to register as family units, will create a safer migration option and reduce the number of families in CBP detention facilities, which are ill-equipped to hold children.
  • Coordinate the movement of vulnerable new arrivals to U.S. Cities that have the capacity to welcome them: When refugees arrive with no family ties or financial sponsorship, they need more support in finding new communities where they can access work and housing. Other countries, like Brazil, have found success in helping new arrivals relocate to cities throughout Brazil in close coordination with state and local governments and civil society organizations. To prevent cities like New York from becoming the only destination for new arrivals without sponsors, the administration should take active steps to help resettle vulnerable populations to additional destinations, including those where people have family. This will also give communities who have expressed the desire for more immigrants to volunteer to welcome new arrivals.
  • Replicate the Success of Operation Allies Welcome and Uniting for Ukraine to Modernize Border Processing and Provide Housing Support for New Arrivals: In the past three years, the administration has managed the large-scale resettlement of tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands of people from Ukraine. During Operation Allies Welcome, the administration set up a multi-agency processing center in Dulles, Virginia, where multiple federal agencies worked together to help Afghans start their lives in the United States. For the past decade, the United States has needed modernized regional processing centers in border communities, where multiple federal agencies can work together with state and local officials to process mixed-flows of forced migrants. Similarly, the administration safely processed 20,000 Ukrainians who came to our southern border by coordinating closely with local service providers. To prevent street releases, misinformation driving people to places like New York, and other security risks that migrants face, the administration should replicate the success of its past emergency response efforts and modernize our border processes by creating regional processing centers. The federal government can also relieve the housing challenges facing destination cities by again utilizing military bases to provide a safe housing option for migrants who do not have existing family ties or sponsors.
  • Continue to Utilize TPS to Protect More People and Allow Them to Work: The administration should issue updated TPS designations and new designations for countries that meet the statutory requirements for the program and are facing deadly armed conflicts, widespread human rights violations, environmental disasters and other humanitarian crises, including: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, Nigeria and Mauritania. The processing for work authorization through the TPS program is generally much simpler than through other programs, generally taking an hour or two to complete and with a turnaround time of weeks or a few months, rather than a much harder and longer asylum process, where work permit applications cannot even be filed until at least five months (150 days) have passed since their arrival.
  • Work with Legal Service Providers to Support Families in Asylum Screenings: Families deserve faster decisions on whether they will be able to make a viable asylum claim in the United States. The administration should continue to partner with legal service providers to implement the Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) program, which has the potential to serve as a fair and fast process that will safely remove people without legal claims in a few months versus the status quo, where families will face deportation after years of being settled in the United States.
  • Implement the Asylum Officer Rule: The administration should return to its original plans of giving asylum officers the ability to grant or deny asylum. As we have seen in cities like New York and Chicago, the length of the asylum adjudication process means that it will be years before new asylum seekers have certainty about their future in the United States. Faster but fair decisions will prevent thousands of new asylum seekers from living in limbo for years.

Increasing Legal Pathways in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • Begin Paroling People who Utilize the Safe Mobility Offices to the United States and Implement Previously Announced Migration Options in Spain and Canada: The administration’s Safe Mobility Offices have the potential to help thousands of people avoid crossing multiple countries to make the dangerous trek to the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration should prioritize resettling the thousands of people who have signed up to use this new legal pathway and encourage Canada and Spain to fulfill their commitments to do the same. If people begin to see that SMO’s can actually help people relocate to places where they can safely live and work, it could discourage more cross-border movements and combat the public perception that SMO’s are not a viable immigration option. 
  • Expedite Refugee Processing in the Western Hemisphere: To provide additional decompression at the border, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program should prioritize admissions from the Western Hemisphere and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services should increase the frequency of circuit rides. The administration should also consider focusing its new private sponsorship pilot on countries for which specific parole processes do not exist, such as Ecuador and Peru, where acute needs for resettlement are on the rise. 

In addition to these policy steps, the Biden administration must clearly present and explain its plan to the American public and allied policy-makers. They should explain that safe legal pathways haven’t existed to complement the asylum system before this administration, and they should commit to building a diverse set of legal pathways, fully implement these policies, and share their progress with the American public. People want action and they need to hear a clear plan.

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