Biden’s Immigration Parole Programs Are Working
The Biden administration’s parole programs are successfully reducing both illegal immigration and total immigration into the U.S., and they are shifting the composition of immigrants so that they are more self-sufficient and reliant on their existing social networks, rather than dependent on government assistance. Maintaining and improving parole will be even more important now that Title 42 has expired and the U.S. government has lost another tool for reducing illegal immigration.
The parole program for migrants from Venezuela began in October 2022 and expanded to Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua in January 2023. Approximately 102,000 people were paroled into the U.S. from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (CHNV) from October 2022 until April 2023, the most recent numbers available. Through March 2023, the program has prevented the entry of more than 380,000 illegal immigrants into the United States. Without the CHNV program, these migrants would have otherwise been processed under Title 8 immigration law and likely admitted into the country.
Potential illegal immigrants wait in their home countries instead of crossing the southern border, since this parole program requires that migrants have a U.S. sponsor, obtain a passport, and pass security and health vetting. This high barrier to entry successfully reduces total immigration and shifts the composition of immigrants toward those who can more easily support themselves or rely on their social and family networks rather than on government welfare.
The CHNV parole program is expected to admit up to 30,000 immigrants per month, but it has reduced combined illegal immigration by more than 98,000 immigrants per month. (The total is 30,000 admitted per month, for all four countries.) This reduces net migration into the U.S. by approximately 68,000 migrants every month, or up to 820,000 annually. However, the parole program has not reduced the net migration of Haitians. A larger number of Haitians are entering the U.S. as parolees than are being turned away as illegal immigrants.
Additionally, the Biden administration has admitted (through April 2023) approximately 123,000 Ukrainians who have qualified to enter the U.S. through the new Uniting for Ukraine parole program, which began in April 2022.
To build on the success of these existing parole programs, this report makes the following recommendations:
- The CHNV program could be improved by exempting parolees from filing a work-permit request form and authorizing them to work incident to status, as with Ukrainian and Afghan parolees.
- USCIS should begin charging a cost-recovery fee for sponsors filing the required form I-134A to hire more personnel and not delay processing of other legal immigration applications that need its attention.
- A rolling parole program targeting countries with high rates of illegal immigration to the U.S. could help reduce illegal immigration and perhaps even total immigration into the United States.
When many Americans consider the crisis at the southern border, they wonder why the government allows people to cross the border without authorization. First, any foreign national physically present in U.S. territory has the legal right to request asylum and have his case heard. Second, some foreign governments do not easily allow the U.S. to deport illegal immigrants back into their territory.
The first explanation—the ability to request asylum, even when it is unmerited—is one that we can and must fix; since the government takes years even to review a case, border patrol has no alternative but to release asylum seekers into the country. Of course, the logical solution to this problem is to decide cases faster by allocating more resources to hiring judges and adjudicators. This would allow border patrol to deport more quickly those who are denied asylum and admit those who are approved. But that requires congressional action, and there is little political will to pass such a solution because both sides pair such solutions to policies like amnesty or more immigration restrictions.
The second explanation—foreign governments refusing to accept deportees or setting up difficult barriers to do so—is a more complicated problem. Several of these countries are ruled by authoritarian governments (namely, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela), and deportation is costly and difficult to Haiti and Ukraine.
The reality of illegal immigration today is much different from decades ago, when it consisted mostly of Mexicans crossing the southern border, when the U.S. government could quickly return these migrants to their country of origin, just south of the border. It is also different from just a few years ago, when migrants hailed from Central America. They traveled longer distances, but the U.S. could still send them home. Today, many immigrants come from authoritarian countries that are both uncooperative and farther away, making deportation much more expensive and legally complex or impossible.
The section of the U.S. code that contains all of the country’s immigration laws, including restraints on who is admissible to the country or eligible for a visa and the nation’s asylum laws, is called Title 8. The share of U.S. border crossings processed under Title 8 with migrants from these five countries—Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Ukraine—peaked at nearly 49% of all border encounters (Figure 1) just before Uniting for Ukraine, the first of the Biden administration’s parole programs, began to admit people in April 2022, up from less than 5% before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Additionally, before the parole programs were put into place, Title 42—the section of the U.S. code that allowed the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prohibit migrants into the U.S. in order to prevent the transmission of a communicable disease—could not effectively be applied to citizens of these five nations because of the difficulty of immediate expulsion to these countries. Parole for citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela was done as part of an agreement with Mexico, in which the U.S. would admit up to 30,000 people from these countries every month and be able to expel up to 30,000 of them to Mexico under Title 42 if they showed up at the border.
This report includes data through April 2023 in most sections. One note about the most recent data: April 2023 data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) show a significant increase in encounters at the border, including of Venezuelans. This could raise the concern that the effect of parole programs on illegal immigration is not lasting. However, I would caution against that interpretation, due to the effect of the end of Title 42 at the border. Migrants knew the policy was ending. The termination of that program likely changed migrants’ expectations about the best time and manner (legally or illegally) to cross the border to increase their chances of being allowed into the United States.
Additionally, starting in April 2023, the Biden administration began to change how it categorized migrants, utilizing Title 8 removal rather than Title 42 expulsions. This makes Title 8 encounters at the border in April 2023 a less accurate measure of the number of unauthorized migrants allowed into the country than it was before April 2023.
This suggests that even if the asylum system could be fixed and if cases were decided quickly enough so that migrants could be detained until a decision could be made, there will always be a number of migrants who will attempt to unlawfully enter and either be successful or be captured, but authorities will be unable to deport them. The question, then, is which policies could minimize this illegal immigration with the goal of ensuring that fewer people who could become net burdens on society or criminals enter the United States.
Biden’s Parole Programs
The Biden administration is tackling this new problem with an existing tool called “humanitarian parole,” a form of entry permit to the U.S. for immigrants without visas. The president can issue humanitarian parole to admit immigrants quickly and grant them work authorization for a limited period of time and for humanitarian or significant public benefit reasons.
Since October 2022, citizens of Venezuela have been allowed to apply for this entry permit with the condition that they do so from outside the U.S. and have a U.S. sponsor with legal status and enough financial resources to support the migrant. The sponsor must also agree to be vetted by U.S. security databases. In January of this year, the Biden administration expanded the process for Venezuelans to citizens of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, committing to admit no more than 30,000 parolees each month.
Using parole to admit large numbers of people is not unheard of. Biden first did it with Afghan evacuees after the disastrous withdrawal from that war-torn nation, and then roughly 100,000 Ukrainians in early 2022. Congress passed a law granting these parolees immediate work authorization. Previous presidents since the end of World War II have also used parole to quickly rescue refugees, such as many European displaced persons after the war; Hungarians after the 1956 Hungarian revolution; Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians fleeing from communism in Indochina in the 1970s; and Cubans fleeing from the Castro regime to this day.
Biden’s most recent parole program is controversial. Some argue that it is legal because it is a discretionary decision under the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as being consistent with precedent from other programs. But 20 states have sued the Biden administration, arguing that this is an illegal use of his parole authority. However, this report will not evaluate the legality of parole. Instead, it will examine whether the parole programs have been effective at achieving their stated goals and whether they are a good policy for Americans.
Specifically, this report examines whether Biden’s immigration parole programs have reduced illegal border crossings and, if so, by how much. And, in exchange for reduced crossings, how many more immigrants have been admitted on parole?
Important Definitions and Acronyms
|The section of the U.S. code that contains all of the country’s immigration laws, including restraints on who is admissible to the country or eligible for a visa; criminal penalties for reentering unlawfully after deportation; expedited removal of inadmissible migrants; the nation’s asylum laws
|The section of the U.S. code that allows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director to prohibit, in whole or in part, migration into the U.S. in order to prevent the transmission of a communicable disease
|In immigration law, parole is an executive authority granted to the secretary of Homeland Security to allow foreign nationals to enter and remain in the U.S. without a visa for urgent humanitarian reasons or if their entry would represent a significant public benefit.
Examples of broad parole programs are the “wet foot–dry foot” policy that existed for Cubans arriving in Florida by boat until 2017, the Haitian and Cuban family reunification program, the Central American Minors reunification program, and even the International Entrepreneur rule.
|Acronym that stands for “Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.” It is used to name the parole program for nationals from these countries implemented by the Biden administration. It began as a program solely for Venezuelans in October 2022 and was expanded to those from the four countries in January 2023.
|Uniting for Ukraine
|The parole program implemented in April 2022 to allow as many Ukrainians as possible to come as quickly as possible after Russia invaded Ukraine
|The Department of Homeland Security is the government entity entrusted with the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws and inspection at U.S. borders, in addition to performing various counterterrorism functions.
|United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is the agency within DHS that handles the legal immigration system.
|Customs and Border Protection is the agency within DHS that inspects people and goods crossing U.S. international borders.
|Form filed by a U.S. sponsor with USCIS to parole a prospective immigrant into the country under the CHNV and Uniting for Ukraine parole programs. It is filed online and requires no fee.
How Parole Works for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans
Not every citizen of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (CHNV) is eligible to apply for parole under current policy. To be paroled to the U.S. under this program, migrants must have a sponsor, and both the sponsor and the immigrant must meet conditions set by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Requirements for Parolees
- Be outside the United States
- Be a national of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, or Venezuela; or be an immediate family member (spouse, common-law partner, and/or unmarried child under the age of 21) who is traveling with an eligible Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan, or Venezuelan
- Have a U.S.-based supporter who filed a Form I-134A (an online request to be a supporter and a declaration of financial support) on the beneficiary’s behalf that USCIS has vetted and confirmed
- Possess an unexpired passport valid for international travel
- Provide for their own commercial travel to an air U.S. port of entry and final U.S. destination
- Undergo and pass required national security and public safety vetting
- Comply with all additional requirements, including vaccination requirements and other public health guidelines
- Demonstrate that a grant of parole is warranted, based on significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons and that a favorable exercise of discretion is otherwise merited
- Not be a dual national with a country that is not included in the parole programs or have permanent legal status in a third country. Spouses and minor children of the main parolee are exempt from this requirement.
Requirements for Sponsors
- File Form I-134A online with USCIS for each sponsored migrant, providing the government the sponsor’s and migrant’s biographical information
- Hold lawful status in the U.S. (i.e., be a U.S. citizen, national, or lawful permanent resident; hold Temporary Protected Status or asylum status in the U.S.; or be a parolee or recipient of deferred action like Deferred Enforced Departure, where covered individuals are not subject to removal from the U.S. for a designated period of time)
- Pass security and background vetting, including for public safety, national security, human trafficking, and exploitation concerns
- Demonstrate sufficient financial resources to receive, maintain, and support the individual(s) whom the sponsors have agreed to support for the duration of their parole period.
These requirements limit the number of eligible applicants substantially, since most of the residents of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela do not have a valid passport. But they also target the population that is most likely to want to migrate to the U.S. illegally: those without dual citizenship in other nations and who have some connection to the U.S. (such as connections to a possible employer, distant family member, or close friends) and want to leave their home country.
Since it offers the opportunity to enter the U.S. legally by plane and earn more by working legally, the program is attractive. Many migrants are willing to wait in their home countries for longer periods of time and undergo a background check and vaccinations rather than risk crossing the border illegally. This provides some reassurance that migrants who are paroled are not criminals and do not pose a public health threat.
Estimating Parole Statistics
The Biden administration has not publicly released the number of noncitizens paroled under these programs. But I was able to estimate this number by looking at CBP data for Title 8 encounters at ports of entry managed by the Office of Field Operations that do not border Canada or Mexico, i.e., airports and some seaports.
Figure 2 shows the number of these Title 8 encounters at airports. I also exclude ports of entry at the border cities of El Paso, Laredo, and San Diego, in order to avoid counting illegal crossers.
Why not look at those paroled at the border? Because while some migrants are paroled at the border, that is separate from the CHNV program (Figure 3). Migrants paroled at the border do not know whether they will be eligible before arriving at the port of entry. In contrast, parolees who arrive at airports need permission to travel in order to board the plane, so we can assume that almost everyone who lands in the U.S. on an airplane and is paroled from those countries is a parolee through this program.
We can observe a large increase in Title 8 encounters at airports from the average of 127 Venezuelans per month in fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 1, 2021–Sept. 30, 2022) to more than 5,500 Venezuelans in November 2022, a month after the parole program began. All parolees are counted as Title 8 encounters at the port of entry that they use. Unlike noncitizens who get individually paroled at the southern border or deported, parolees under the CHNV program enter through airports and are therefore counted there.
To estimate the number of parolees under this program, I subtract the FY 2022 average of Title 8 encounters at these airports to the actual number of Title 8 encounters after the start of the parole program. The reason for subtracting the previous fiscal year average is to account for the people paroled at airports who are separate from the CHNV program; these migrants may be recipients of some form of advance parole or humanitarian parole, or they might be stowaways on airplanes.
For example, if the average number of Venezuelans without visas encountered at U.S. airports each month in 2022 was 100, and that number rose to 5,000 after the parole program became available, I assume that the additional 4,900 encounters represent Venezuelans paroled under this new program.
Using this method, I estimate that the Biden administration has paroled an additional 38,000 Venezuelans between October 2022 and April 2023; and 22,000 Cubans, 29,000 Haitians, and 13,000 Nicaraguans between January and April 2023, for a total of approximately 102,000 parolees from these four nations.
Uniting for Ukraine Program Participants
The other parole program recently created by the Biden administration is Uniting for Ukraine. The goal of this program, which began in April 2022, was not to slow the flow of people on the southern border but to rescue Ukrainians from the Russian invasion of their country. Ukrainians began to rush the border as soon as the war began, and the parole program seems to have had a mitigating effect on Ukrainian illegal immigration, which this report discusses at greater length below.
Uniting for Ukraine had the stated goal of reaching 100,000 Ukrainians and setting them up with sponsors. Using the same method for estimating the CHNV participants but subtracting the fiscal year 2021 monthly average of paroled Ukrainians (706 individuals) from the total number encountered each month, I estimate that 123,000 Ukrainians have been paroled to the U.S. as part of the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program from May 2022 through April 2023. (Figure 4 shows the estimated total paroled under any program, including the Uniting for Ukraine program.)
The Effectiveness of Parole to Reduce Illegal Immigration
Prior to March 2020, all migrants encountered at the border, either directly at a port of entry or encountered by border patrol somewhere between them, were processed under what is known as Title 8. Migrants had the chance to apply for asylum if they could establish a credible fear of persecution or torture in their country of origin. Otherwise, they were deported or imprisoned if they were inadmissible or a repeat attempted border crosser.
At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, the U.S. government declared a public health emergency and began immediately expelling most unauthorized migrants encountered on international borders, under a section of public health law called Title 42. All migrants processed under Title 42 were returned to their home country or to Mexico, while many of those processed under Title 8 were allowed to stay and apply for asylum. A Title 8 deportation—unlike a Title 42 expulsion—carries legal consequences for the migrant’s future access to legal immigration and possible imprisonment if the migrant is a repeat violator or criminal.
Over time, the share of encounters processed under Title 42 (Figure 5) fell as the Covid-19 pandemic subsided and the administration prepared for the end of the policy in May, when the national public health emergency declaration ended.
Use of the Title 42 authority varied significantly by the migrant’s country of origin (Figure 6) and the demographics of the encounter (Figure 7). Single adults were more likely to be expelled while families were less likely; unaccompanied minors were almost never expelled.
To understand the effectiveness of the parole programs, our outcome of interest is the number of people eventually admitted into the country, not simply the number of border encounters. Title 42 encounters of unauthorized migrants were all refused entry. Title 8 encounters may include repeat crossers. For instance, a migrant may have been previously expelled under Title 42 but crossed again and was processed later under Title 8. Or a migrant may have been legally deported under Title 8 but was double-counted because he came back to the southern border within a month. This second case is more likely for Mexicans, rather than migrants from farther away.
Venezuela illustrates the dramatic effect of parole programs (Figure 8). After the Biden administration began implementing the parole program for Venezuelans in late October 2022, border crossings suddenly fell as Venezuelans stopped crossing the Darién Gap, between Colombia and Panama, on their way to the southern border. And as those migrants who were already on their way arrived, the number of Venezuelans encountered at the border each month fell from a high of more than 33,000 in September 2022 to roughly 1,200 in February 2023. That is a reduction in border encounters of more than 95%—despite the horrific economic conditions in Venezuela, which are worse than in any other Latin American nation except perhaps Cuba.
The effect was similar for Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans, according to CBP data (Figure 9). Since citizens of these countries were included among those eligible for parole in January 2023, at least 95% fewer of them have been encountered along the southern border.
These are considerable results, but the greatest drop in border encounters with illegal immigrants because of successful parole programs was not with Latin Americans but Ukrainians.
Immediately after the Uniting for Ukraine parole program went into effect on April 25, 2022, total border encounters dropped from nearly 21,000 in April 2022 to fewer than 500 the next month (Figure 10). Since then, border encounters have averaged about 100 for the last five months of available data, below the 2021 average of nearly 400 Ukrainians encountered at the border every month.
Measuring Parole Programs’ Effectiveness
We saw how net border encounters decreased from their peaks after these parole programs began. Next, we will see how significantly border encounters decreased, relative to the counterfactual in which immigrants had not been eligible for parole.
CBP does not report unique encounters for every country every month, but it does report Title 8 and Title 42 encounters. Their data show that more than 95% of Title 8 encounters for citizens of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba and about 75% of Title 8 encounters for citizens of Haiti are unique encounters. Therefore, Title 8 encounters are a reasonably good approximation of the number of unique people who are caught illegally entering the U.S. (at least from these four countries).
Although the number of unique encounters does not equal the number of people admitted to the U.S., these two figures are very similar for citizens from CHNV nations, since they can more easily demonstrate credible fear of returning. Therefore, it is likely that the overwhelming majority of them are admitted into the United States. Additionally, Cuba does not accept U.S. deportees and there are no direct flights between the U.S. and Venezuela, making deportation a more difficult and costly operation. So if Title 8 encounters fall relative to the counterfactual as a result of opening the legal pathway of parole, that demonstrates that parole reduces the number of people entering illegally.
To measure this, I use CBP enforcement data on nationwide border encounters that include the number of people encountered by U.S. authorities each month at any border (northern, southern, or at sea), broken down by citizenship and by title used (Title 8 or Title 42). I employ several difference-in-differences methods to analyze the treatment effect of the parole programs on Title 8 border encounters after subtracting the number of likely parolees.
A regular difference-in-differences regression that compares “treated” countries, i.e., those eligible for parole, with “untreated” countries would not work in this setting because to identify the effects, we would need to assume parallel trends. Parallel trends, in this context, mean that the rise and fall of border crossings is similar between all countries. This assumption is hard to make because the factors that lead people in each country of origin to leave vary over time and by country. Therefore, I first employ a strategy called “synthetic difference in differences” (SDID), developed by Arkhangelsky et al. (2021). The synthetic control method creates a control group to compare the treatment group by projecting what the treatment group would have looked like, had it followed a similar path to other groups that it looked like before being treated. SDID has more desirable statistical properties than difference-in-differences or synthetic control, which make it well suited to analyze a staggered treatment such as this setting.
I find that the parole programs reduce illegal immirgration from targeted nations, and to a greater extent than they have increased legal immigration in the form of parolees. Therefore, parole for Ukrainians, Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans are reducing total net migration to the United States.
The “average of all five countries” category in Table 1 calculates the average reduction in Title 8 border crossings in the treatment period, compared with the synthetic control group, which means that, on average, we saw 24,000 fewer citizens from each of these five countries each month after their parole programs began (through March 2023), or over 90% fewer migrants, as compared with the counterfactual scenario if Biden had decided to apply Title 42 at a higher rate but parole had not been available.
Parole for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans reduced Title 8 encounters by 98,400 immigrants per month at the southern border. And this is done by paroling no more than 30,000 immigrants per month (inclusive of all four countries). This means that the parole programs are resulting in at least 68,400 fewer total immigrants, legal or illegal, coming to the U.S. each month. The range of estimates for the reduction in Title 8 encounters is wide (between 35,600 and 160,900) because Haitians specifically are not coming in fewer numbers as a result of parole becoming available.
More precisely, I can estimate that the Venezuelan parole program has led to 171,000 fewer Venezuelan illegal immigrants between October 2022 and March 2023 by allowing about 32,000 to come legally under the two-year parole program, resulting in a net migration reduction of 139,000. This excludes the great influx of Venezuelans in April 2023, which may be because migrants knew Title 42 was soon coming to an end. For Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans, parole programs reduced illegal immigration by even more in a shorter time frame (January–March 2023): 210,000 fewer illegal immigrants, in exchange for 41,000 more legal parolees, for a net reduction in migration of 169,000 people in three months from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
The reduction in illegal immigration can be observed in Figures 11 and 12, which show the counterfactuals for border encounters from Venezuela and the average of Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua.
How can the CHNV parole program reduce illegal immigration more than it increases legal immigration?
For one, it delays migration by opening a legal door that has certain requirements. Parole is a carrot; it allows migrants to enter, live, and work legally in the United States. As a result, hundreds of thousands of potential migrants stay in their home countries trying to meet the requirements by looking for sponsors, obtaining a passport, and getting vaccinated, instead of paying coyotes to smuggle them into the United States. During this delay, migrants may also change their minds and no longer desire to emigrate, or they may choose to emigrate elsewhere—in effect, reducing net migration to the United States.
However, this reduction in illegal immigration does not appear to happen for Haitians, whose numbers have increased since they became eligible for parole in January. This may be because Haitians coming to the U.S. were permanently resettled in third countries, such as Chile, so they are not eligible to apply for parole. But it may also be due to recidivism at the border (people are returned to the border after being previously deported). This may explain why the number of crossings is increasing while the numbers of unique encounters of Haitians are decreasing, according to CBP.
If the overall effect of parole programs seems too good to be true, remember that in December 2022, CBP processed a quarter of a million people under Title 8. Even before the current migrant crisis, tens of thousands of Cubans were fleeing each year to the U.S., and more than 7 million Venezuelans have fled their home, mostly to other parts of Latin America, where they have not found much economic opportunity. The lesson is that if the opportunity presents itself, millions are ready to take the trip to the southern border. The parole programs are likely significant in stopping this by rewarding would-be migrants for waiting outside the United States.
Still, the average treatment effect of the parole programs that I reported may be either overstated or understated by these methods. Since parole was coupled with increased use of Title 42 to expel migrants (Figure 13), Title 8 encounters may be falling—not because of parole being available but because of increased expulsions and reclassification. In practice, however, Haiti did not see increased expulsions under Title 42, as promised by DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and President Biden in the announcement of the program. Only Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Ukrainians experienced greater expulsions and to different degrees.
One way to control for this possibility is to add the share of border encounters expelled under Title 42 as a covariate in my model, but a large part of the increase in the Title 42 share is due to a drop in Title 8 encounters because of parole being available. Still, Figures 11 and 12 already show the counterfactuals controlling for changing Title 42 use rates.
A well-founded concern over identifying the true effect of the parole programs is whether the reduction in border encounters from parole-eligible nations allows border patrol to redirect resources toward catching illegal immigrants from other nations and therefore biases our result.
If CBP catches more migrants from other nations as a result of, say, fewer Venezuelans attempting to cross, then the model used here overestimates the change in illegal immigration from treated countries. But if this is true, it also means that the current methodology estimates both the direct effect of the parole programs on reducing border crossings from treated nations, as well as the indirect effect of helping CBP do its job and catch and deport immigrants who would not have been caught otherwise because of less stressed resources.
Despite the tumultuous crisis at the southern border, the Biden administration’s parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans and the Uniting for Ukraine parole program are positive developments. They have reduced illegal immigration at a greater rate than they have increased legal immigration, and they have ensured that those who do come to the U.S. are vetted, financially stable, and able to work.
The administration should evaluate making this a dynamic parole program that changes which countries are eligible, based on the number of border encounters over time, dropping countries that are no longer significant sources of illegal immigration and adding countries from where more migrants arrive at the border.
Additionally, USCIS should allow those who are paroled into the U.S. to work provisionally, or as long as their parole lasts, based on their passport stamp and I-94 issued by CBP at airports. This will help avoid clogging up the immigration system because migrants will no longer need to file work-authorization request I-765 forms. DHS should also send a notice to state agencies directing them to verify the immigration status of migrants using their passport.
An underappreciated aspect of these parole programs is that it takes much less time to process their case than if they presented themselves without notice at the border. Saving border patrol agents’ precious time comes at the cost of using USCIS resources to vet the parolees and review sponsor applications to the detriment of other legal immigrants waiting for response to their applications. This is another area where USCIS could and should improve by charging a cost-recovery fee for filing form I-134A. This would not deter use of the program, since the fee is reasonable and the cost of paying coyotes and suffering the trip to the southern border is much higher.
There will always be some level of illegal immigration; even during the record lows amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the last year of the Trump administration, hundreds of thousands of people entered the United States. And Title 42, while effective at reducing illegal immigration, was circumstantial and could not continue indefinitely. It expired on May 11, 2023, when the public health emergency ended. Even if Congress enacted a policy similar to Title 42 permanently, this report shows that record illegal immigration continued while Title 42 was in place. Parole programs were more effective at reducing illegal immigration than Title 42 because they substantially reduced total immigration by the hundreds of thousands, and shifted immigration to a legal route that protects U.S. citizens from potential criminals, benefits taxpayers by ensuring that migrants have a sponsor to rely on financially, and hurts coyotes and drug cartels by reducing the number of migrants who are willing to pay to cross the border. You could say that the Biden parole programs are an immigration restrictionism dream.
About the Author
Daniel Di Martino is a PhD candidate in economics at Columbia University and a graduate fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where he focuses on high-skill immigration policy. Born and raised in Venezuela, he came to the U.S. in 2016. He has appeared many times on national TV, including Fox News and CNN, and has written for USA Today and National Review. Di Martino speaks regularly on college campuses and at high schools. He is the founder of the Dissident Project and a board member of Young America’s Foundation.
Estimating the Number of Parolees
Authorities do not make the exact number of parolees under Uniting for Ukraine or the processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans available for public use. I was able to estimate these figures, however, since parolees do not have visas and therefore are reported as Title 8 border encounters at airports. Few people arrive at an airport without a visa because they are not allowed onto an airplane without such a document. But parolees are a special case. The U.S. government does grant them permission to travel and then processes them at the airport after their arrival in the United States.
To estimate the number of parolees, I use CBP’s nationwide encounters database, and then exclude border patrol encounters. What remains are encounters with the Office of Field Operations, which is the component of CBP that is stationed at legal ports of entry. I am interested only in those who show up at airports, since these are the parolees coming under the programs examined in this report. To this end, I select airports (rather than seaports or land ports) as the “Area of Responsibility” and exclude the following Office of Field Operations areas of responsibility:
- El Paso
- San Diego
This leaves us with the main international airports of the U.S. in these locations:
- Los Angeles
- New Orleans
- New York City
- Portland, Oregon
- San Francisco
- San Juan
- The preclearance (international) office
I include only Title 8 encounters, not Title 42, and select each of the countries eligible for parole, observing a large spike in these types of encounters at airports when the parole programs began in 2022.
Estimating Unique Encounters from Venezuela
CBP started releasing unique encounters of Venezuelans at the border only in September 2022. By contrast, data on total encounters are available since FY 2020, including after September 2022. I assume that most Title 42 encounters are repeat encounters because expulsion is relatively quick under Title 42 and legally inconsequential for migrants, so they often attempt to cross again.
To generate a rough estimate of the number of unique encounters, I calculate what share of Title 8 encounters were unique—i.e., encounters with migrants who were not repeat crossers within the month—from September 2022 until parole became available for each country. For Venezuela, this includes only September 2022 and October 2022 and yields a rate of 98.7% unique encounters. For Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua, this calculation includes September 2022 through December 2022 and yields 98.6% unique encounters for Nicaragua, 96.2% for Cuba, and 74.6% for Haiti.
These are high rates of unique border crossings, compared with about 50% for all other nationalities. This may be the result of the credible fear that people from these countries face, which allows them to seek asylum and avoid expulsion or deportation.
After generating these rates of unique border encounters per country, I extrapolate what border crossings looked like in the past by multiplying this rate for Venezuelans by the number of monthly Title 8 encounters of Venezuelans since October 2019, giving us the data shown in striped bars in Figure 8.
Code for Regressions
Turn border encounters data set from CBP into a useful Excel file and import to Stata with the variables for Title 8 encounters, Title 42 encounters, and total encounters by month and country.
replace treated=40 if ncountry==5
replace treated=40 if ncountry==9
replace treated=40 if ncountry==14
replace treated=37 if ncountry==22
replace treated=32 if ncountry==21
csdid t8, ivar(ncountry) time(nmonth) gvar(treated)
csdid logt8, ivar(ncountry) time(nmonth) gvar(treated)
Note: Logs are transformed into percentages in the tables above (exp(X)-1)×100
Title 42 Regressions
replace treated=1 if ncountry==5 & nmonth>=40
replace treated=1 if ncountry==9 & nmonth>=40
replace treated=1 if ncountry==14 & nmonth>=40
replace treated=1 if ncountry==22 & nmonth>=37
replace treated=1 if ncountry==21 & nmonth>=32
reg logt8 logt42rate
reg logt8 logt42rate i.ncountry
reg logt8 logt42rate i.ncountry i.nmonth
reg logt8 logt42rate i.ncountry i.nmonth if treated==1
reg logt8 logt42rate i.ncountry i.nmonth if treated==0
For Figures 11 and 12
sdid t8 ncountry nmonth treated, vce(placebo) covariates(t42rate) graph
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images