Florida, other states sue feds over parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans

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Florida sued the Department of Homeland Security and its leadership on Tuesday over a humanitarian parole program the Biden administration hopes will reduce irregular migration from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua, arguing that it is a violation of federal immigration law and an overreach of executive power.

“The Plaintiff States … face substantial, irreparable harms from the Department’s abuse of its parole authority, which allow potentially hundreds of thousands of additional aliens to enter each of their already overwhelmed territories,” says the lawsuit, which was filed by the governments of 20 states.

At the heart of a lawsuit is a new parole process set up for Venezuelans, Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that allows nationals from these countries to apply for humanitarian parole for as long as two years. The migrants can be approved to live and work in the United States as long as they pass medical and background checks, have a financial sponsor in the country, and pay for their airfare.

The legal challenge to the parole program comes as South Florida and the Florida Keys experience a significant surge in migrant landings, especially Cubans. On Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a boat with nearly 400 Haitians near the Bahamas.

The Republican-led states involved in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Texas, argue that Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. immigration agencies, effectively circumvented Congress and created a de facto visa program without legislative approval. They also claim that the program runs beyond the limited circumstances in which Homeland Security is allowed to employ humanitarian parole under federal law.

The states suing are Texas, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

The lawsuit argues that in Florida’s case, the state will be harmed because it costs the state millions of dollars and “significant state resources” such as public education, healthcare, domestic violence victim services, and correctional facilities.

“The presence of these illegal aliens in Florida … violates the State’s quasi-sovereign interest in its territory and the welfare of its citizens,” the lawsuit states.

“Biden’s new solution to his self-created crisis at the border is to allow illegal immigrants to travel directly into the interior of the country without crossing the southern border — in direct violation of federal law,“ Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement Tuesday.

Listed as defendants are Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ur Jaddou; Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Troy Miller; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson.

The Department of Homeland Security has argued that the program is a way to bring some order to what the agency has described as a broken immigration system as well as reduce the use of dangerous migration routes such as the Florida Straits and the Darien Gap, the unruly no-man’s-land on the Panama-Colombia border.

Up to 30,000 people a month from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and Cuba can enter the United States under the initiative. Already, the first applications for Cubans and Haitians have been approved, a surprisingly quick turnaround for the federal government. Meanwhile, Mexico has agreed to take back 30,000 people a month who come to the U.S. border without proper documentation.

The parole program was first announced for Venezuelans in October, and federal officials have said it has resulted in a drastic drop of immigration encounters with people from the South American nation. Then, in early January, the Biden administration announced it would create similar pathways for Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians.

Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 224,000 encounters nationwide with Cuban nationals in fiscal year 2022, according to federal government statistics. Before the parole program was announced, that influx showed no signs of stopping. Since October, the agency has registered nearly 110,000 encounters with citizens from the island.

Meanwhile, CBP had recorded 56,596 encounters with Haitians during fiscal year 2022, a spike from 48,727 the previous fiscal year year; 164,600 encounters with Nicaraguans, up from 50,722 during that same time period; and 189,520 encounters with Venezuelans, an increase from 50,499.

At a Jan. 19 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mayorkas said that “encounters from targeted countries have dropped significantly” following the establishment of the parole program earlier this month. He also recently warned on his Twitter page that any Cubans or Haitians who tried to enter the United States by sea would not be eligible for the process, a warning that comes amid a surge in migrants landing in the Florida Keys.