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Judge upholds program allowing 30,000 migrants from 4 nations into the U.S. per month

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. On March 8, 2024, a federal judge in Texas upheld a key piece of President Joe Biden's immigration policy that allows a limited number of migrants from four countries to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.
Eric Gay
/
AP
Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the U.S. from Mexico are lined up for processing by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Sept. 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. On March 8, 2024, a federal judge in Texas upheld a key piece of President Joe Biden's immigration policy that allows a limited number of migrants from four countries to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds.

HOUSTON — The Biden administration can keep operating a program that allows a limited number of migrants from four countries to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds after a federal judge on Friday dismissed a challenge from Republican-led states.

U.S. District Judge Drew B. Tipton said Texas and 20 other states had not shown they had suffered financial harm because of the humanitarian parole program that allows up to 30,000 asylum-seekers into the U.S. each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela combined. That was something the states needed to prove to have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.

"In reaching this conclusion, the Court does not address the lawfulness of the Program," Tipton wrote.

Eliminating the program would undercut a broader policy that seeks to encourage migrants to use the Biden administration's preferred pathways into the U.S. or face stiff consequences.

The states, led by Texas, had argued the program is forcing them to spend millions on health care, education, and public safety for the migrants. An attorney working with the Texas attorney general's office in the legal challenge said that the program "created a shadow immigration system."

Advocates for the federal government countered that migrants admitted through the policy helped with a U.S. farm labor shortage.

The Texas Attorney General's Office, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which defended the program, didn't immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

An appeal by Texas and the other states seemed likely.

Since the program was launched in fall 2022, more than 357,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela have been granted parole and allowed to enter the country through January. Haitians have been far been the biggest group to use the program with 138,000 people from that country arriving, followed by 86,000 Venezuelans, 74,000 Cubans and 58,000 Nicaraguans.

Migrants must apply online, arrive at an airport and have a financial sponsor in the U.S. If approved, they can stay for two years and get a work permit.

President Joe Biden has made unprecedented use of parole authority, which has been in effect since 1952 and allows presidents to let people in for "urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit."

Esther Sung, an attorney for Justice Action Center, which represented seven people who were sponsoring migrants as part of the program, said she was looking forward to calling her clients to let them know of the court's decision.

"It's a popular program. People want to welcome other people to this country," she said.

During an August trial in Victoria, Texas, Tipton declined to issue any temporary order that would halt the parole program nationwide. Tipton is an appointee of former President Donald Trump who ruled against the Biden administration in 2022 on an order that determined who to prioritize for deportation.

Some states said the initiative has benefited them. One Nicaraguan migrant admitted into the country through the process filled a position at a farm in Washington state that was struggling to find workers.

Tipton questioned how Texas could be claiming financial losses if data showed that the parole program actually reduced the number of migrants coming into the U.S.

"The Court has before it a case in which Plaintiffs claim that they have been injured by a program that has actually lowered their out-of-pocket costs," Tipton said in Friday's ruling.

When the policy took effect, the Biden administration had been preparing to end a pandemic-era policy at the border known as Title 42 that barred migrants from seeking asylum at ports of entry and immediately expelled many who entered illegally.

Proponents of the policy also faced scrutiny from Tipton, who questioned whether living in poverty was enough for migrants to qualify. Elissa Fudim, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice, responded: "I think probably not."

Federal government attorneys and immigrant rights groups said that in many cases, Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans are also fleeing oppressive regimes, escalating violence and worsening political conditions that have endangered their lives.

The lawsuit did not challenge the use of humanitarian parole for tens of thousands of Ukrainians who came after Russia's invasion. It is among several legal challenges the Biden administration has faced over its immigration policies.

The program's supporters said each case is individually reviewed and some people who had made it to the final approval step after arriving in the U.S. have been rejected, though they did not provide the number of rejections that have occurred.

Friday's decision "is a clear win and affirmation of humanitarian immigration parole being an indispensable, necessary and model program of the type of smart solutions we should be focusing on to relieve pressure on the border and modernize our failed immigration system," said Todd Schulte, president of immigration advocacy organization FWD.us.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press