The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that the first group of Venezuelans sponsored under a new Biden administration program arrived to the U.S. this past weekend. Officials said that four individuals with U.S. sponsors arrived via plane on Saturday. Their application approval and arrival process was remarkably fast—the program allowing U.S.-based applicants to sponsor Venezuelan nationals was unveiled not even two weeks ago.
Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, said it suggested officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) were “to make this a very high priority.” DHS said in a statement that hundreds more migrants have been approved for travel.
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“On Tuesday, USCIS began accepting applications under the new Venezuelan migration enforcement process, a lawful pathway for Venezuelans fleeing a repressive regime,” DHS said. “By late Wednesday, approvals began to go out, and screening and vetting of individuals began.” The four individuals who arrived this past weekend flew from outside Venezuela. Two from Mexico, one from Guatemala, and one from Peru. Officials said that hundreds of “vetted and approved” Venezuelan nationals also have the thumbs-up to book their travel.
Approval does not confer any permanent status in the U.S.; like in the successful Uniting for Ukraine program, humanitarian parole will allow applicants to live and work here, usually for about two years.
While Venezuelan arrivals through this new program have rapidly begun, and many more appear to be set to arrive within the coming days and weeks, advocates and attorneys previously criticized the administration’s new policy as “punitive to the point of cruelty.” While the Uniting for Ukraine program has welcomed tens of thousands of people and has no cap, the Venezuelan version of the program caps enrollees at 24,000.
Under a new agreement with Mexico, the administration will use the debunked Title 42 order to send back to Mexico those Venezuelans who arrive via land border and are not enrolled in the new program. DHS cautioned in this latest release that “Venezuelans who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally will continue to be returned to Mexico and will be ineligible for this process in the future.”
Among those blocked from seeking safety has been Remira Alarsa, a former teacher who traveled thousands of miles, The Guardian reported. Having arrived to Mexico just as the new policy went into effect, she “must decide whether to turn back or forge ahead,” the report said. Alarsa, her husband, and a nephew had stepped foot in seven countries during their trek, and had been robbed of their savings while in Guatemala.
“We have to keep going, as there is no other option,” she said in the report. “I keep trying to tell myself that I didn’t leave two weeks too late, that this was the perfect timing. But at every stop, money is taken from you, little by little. And now we’re going to have to pay a lot more.”
"While we welcome the decision to provide humanitarian parole for some Venezuelans with family ties in the United States, we condemn the administration’s plan to expand Title 42, which falsely uses public health pretexts to conduct mass expulsions and undermine asylum protections that are guaranteed under U.S. and international law,” National Partnership for New Americans’s Nicole Melaku said this earlier month. She noted that while the policy benefits those with U.S. ties, it leaves in the cold many others who don’t. “All people should have the right to seek safety and protection, not just a select few.”
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