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A key part of the White House's strategy for the U.S.-Mexico border goes on trial

Valerie Laveus greets her nephew Tristan-Ryan Malherbe Daniel, as he and his dad, Reginald Malherbe Daniel, rear, arrive in the U.S. for the first time at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Jim Rassol
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AP
Valerie Laveus greets her nephew Tristan-Ryan Malherbe Daniel, as he and his dad, Reginald Malherbe Daniel, rear, arrive in the U.S. for the first time at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

When the White House announced a new way for migrants from Haiti to come to the U.S. legally back in January, Valerie Laveus wasted no time.

"I was like, God, you answer prayers. I am so grateful. And I jumped on it," said Laveus, a schoolteacher in Florida who's helping her brother and nephew come to the U.S.

The two are among the more than 180,000 migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela who've been admitted to the U.S. under the new program, with permission to live and work here for two years.

The Biden administration says it's part of a broader strategy to discourage illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border by opening up new legal alternatives.

"We have overseen the most significant expansion in lawful pathways for people to come to the United States in many decades," said Blas Nuñez-Neto, a top immigration official at the Department of Homeland Security, in May.

After years of record apprehensions at the southern border, the administration's new approach is a mix of incentives and disincentives — in other words, carrots and sticks — intended to discourage migrants from crossing the border illegally.

But the strategy is being challenged in court, both by immigrant advocates and immigration hardliners.

Now a case brought by Texas and other states is heading for trial.

A dispute over the legal authority known as parole

The states accuse the Biden administration of creating "a new visa program that allows hundreds of thousands of aliens to enter the United States who otherwise have no basis for doing so," according to the lawsuit. "This flouts, rather than follows, the clear limits imposed by Congress."

The Biden administration argues that it does have a legal basis for what it's doing: an authority known as parole. In the past, presidents of both parties have used parole to admit non-citizens into the country, sometimes in substantial numbers.

No administration has relied on parole quite this much. The Biden administration has used parole programs to admit more than half a million people into the country, including hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and tens of thousands of Afghans.

"This administration has used parole as the vehicle to create an entirely separate illegal system of admitting foreigners to the United States," says Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think-tank in Washington, D.C. that advocates for lower levels of immigration.

Krikorian says parole was intended to give authorities some wiggle room. But it's supposed to be handed out on a case-by=-case basis, when there's a significant public benefit to doing so.

"The idea of using parole to admit numbers that reach the thousands is preposterous," Krikorian says.

The Biden administration insists that it is making decisions on a case-by-case basis, and that the new parole programs do have substantial public benefits because they discourage migrants from crossing the southern border illegally. Immigration officials say the new border policies are working. They point to a sharp drop in apprehensions in late May and June, although those numbers began to climb again in July.

The Justice Department will likely make those arguments in court later this week, when a federal judge in Victoria, Texas, holds a crucial hearing starting on Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton has already ruled against the Biden administration in several other high-profile immigration cases, though his ruling was ultimately reversed by the Supreme Court in one them. The Department of Justice tried unsuccessfully to have the case transferred away from Tipton, arguing that the plaintiffs filed their case in Victoria because they were seeking a friendly judge.

Family and friends of migrants line up in support

The Biden administration is also receiving help in the case from some who are supporting their friends and relatives from abroad. A group of those supporters has moved to intervene in the case.

"Not only is this entirely consistent with the law, but it's also no different from what other administrations have done for years," said Monika Langarica, a lawyer with the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy, which is helping to represent the supporters along with the Justice Action Center and RAICES.

Those supporters include Valerie Laveus, who brought her brother and nephew to Florida from Haiti.

Laveus was born in Haiti, and came to the U.S when she was 18. She's now a U.S. citizen and a teacher in south Florida. For years, Laveus has been trying to get a green card for her brother, as conditions in Haiti got worse and worse.

When she first heard about the parole program, she was elated — until she learned that Texas and other states were suing to block the program.

"I heard about the fact that they're trying to cancel it," Laveus said, and "my heart sunk to my feet."

Finally, their application was approved. Laveus's brother and nephew flew to join her in Florida earlier this month.

"All anybody wants who lives in unrest is to have peace, to have some family time, to be able to get the basic needs met," Laveus said. "Instead of living in fear of death, fear of hunger."

Germán Cadenas, left, and his uncle Nelson Josue Peña Moreno, shortly after their reunion in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Germán Cadenas / Germán Cadenas
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Germán Cadenas
Germán Cadenas, left, and his uncle Nelson Josue Peña Moreno, shortly after their reunion in Philadelphia earlier this year.

The group of supporters also includes Germán Cadenas, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, who sponsored his uncle from Venezuela.

"He's just a very decent, good human being. And for me to be able to help him ease the burden that he's been under has been incredibly rewarding," Cadenas said. "It's like the least I can do."

And it's the least the country can do, Cadenas says, to keep these legal pathways open.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.