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Washington — The first group of migrants allowed to come to the U.S. legally under an expanded private sponsorship immigration process arrived earlier this week, just days afterby the Biden administration to discourage illegal border crossings, government figures obtained by CBS News show.
Ten migrants have entered the U.S. under the program, which will allow up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans with American-based financial sponsors to fly into the U.S. each month. The first arrivals occurred Tuesday, five days after the U.S. began accepting applications for the program.
More than 600 additional migrants from these four crisis-stricken countries had been vetted and approved to come to the U.S. as of Friday, according to the unpublished government data. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has also received thousands of applications from prospective sponsors.
Those processed under the sponsorship initiative will be granted parole, a quasi-immigration status that allows them to legally enter, live and work in the U.S. on humanitarian or public interest grounds. The Biden administration has used the same authority to resettle tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Afghan refugees.
The data on arrivals and approved cases show the Biden administration has moved quickly to operationalize an unprecedented program it believes will be key to managing migration along the U.S.-Mexico border amid record levels of migrant apprehensions there.
First unveiled by President Biden last week, the expanded sponsorship program is part of a new strategy his administration hopes will significantly reduce illegal border crossings by pairing expanded lawful migration channels with tougher enforcement measures for those who enter the country without legal permission.
Illegal border crossings have dropped sharply since the measures were announced, a senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told CBS News, requesting anonymity to describe internal data. U.S. border agents are averaging 4,000 daily migrant apprehensions, down from a 7,000 daily average in November, the official said.
A similar dynamic occurred last fall, when the Biden administration started expelling some Venezuelans to Mexico and allowing others to enter legally if they had financial sponsors. Officials have said the expanded sponsorship program is designed to replicate the perceived success of the policies for Venezuelans.
Mr. Biden announced last week that migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua would face immediate expulsion to Mexico if they crossed the southern border unlawfully, an expansion of the Title 42 public health law that was first invoked by the Trump administration at the outset of the pandemic.
The Biden administration also announced it would increase expedited deportations of migrants who can't be processed under Title 42, as well as a proposed regulation that would render migrants ineligible forif they entered the U.S. illegally after failing to ask for protection in third countries like Mexico.
Officials simultaneously unveiled athat will allow asylum-seekers to use a mobile app to apply for an appointment to show up at a port of entry to request permission to enter the U.S. The process launched Thursday and the first port of entry appointments are scheduled for Jan 18.
"We can't stop people from making the journey, but we can require that they come here in an orderly way under U.S. law," Mr. Biden said in his White House speech last week.
While the new measures appear to have led to an immediate reduction in illegal border crossings, their long-term impact is unclear. Mr. Biden's revamped border strategy has also garnered criticism from the right and left.
Immigration hardliners have condemned the large-scale use of the parole authority, which they believe should only be invoked in extraordinary cases.
While Biden allies have applauded the expanded sponsorship process, some Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocates have criticized the new measures for relying, at least in part, on Trump-era policies, such as the Title 42 expulsions, which are currently at the center of a case before the Supreme Court.
In a private briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus expressed several concerns about the border enforcement policies, particularly the proposal to disqualify some migrants from asylum. The proposal, they noted, resembles a Trump administration asylum restriction that was blocked in federal court.
Human rights activists have also voiced concerns that the sponsorship and port of entry programs will exclude the most destitute and desperate migrants, who may not have access to Wi-Fi, mobile phones, financial means or family members in the U.S. who can sponsor them.
Under the private sponsorship programs that preceded the expanded initiative announced last week, the U.S. has allowed roughly 102,000 Ukrainians and more than 11,000 Venezuelans to enter the country under the parole authority, according to government statistics.
Officials have said those arriving under the sponsorship programs underwent background checks and security screenings.