October 2023, Volume 29, Number 4
Migrants: Surge and Backlash
Title 42, the public health measure that allowed unauthorized foreigners who are encountered just inside the US to be returned to Mexico, ended on May 11, 2023. Instead of the expected upsurge in illegal immigration, encounters fell to less than 3,000 a day in June 2023.
Encounters rose to 9,000 a day in September, as migrants from many countries reported they received loans from relatives already in the US or sold land and houses to finance a trip to the US to apply for asylum. Smugglers advertising on social media “guarantee” migrants US work visas.
The Biden Administration tried to reduce illegal immigration with a program that allows foreign asylum seekers in Mexico to use an app, CBPOne, to obtain an appointment with an immigration officer. During the interview, foreigners can establish a credible fear of persecution in their home countries and then enter the US legally via one of the 26 ports of entry on the Mexico-US border. After about 180 days in the US, foreign asylum seekers can work legally while they wait for immigration judges to hear their cases.
Another program allows up to 30,000 citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela a month who have US financial sponsors be paroled into the US and given two-year work permits; Ukrainians were previously paroled into the US if they had US financial sponsors. Over 160,000 citizens of the CHNV countries entered the US in the first half of 2023, while illegal entries from these countries declined by 90 percent.
US sponsors file paperwork with USCIS showing that they can support the foreigner being paroled into the US, which results in travel authorization to enter the US for two years initially. There are no published guidelines, but sponsors must generally have incomes above the poverty line for themselves and the foreigners they are sponsoring, or at least $50,560 for a family of four that is sponsoring four foreigners in 2023.
There are about 2.5 million immigration cases awaiting first decisions or appeals pending in immigration courts, making waits for first decisions by the 700 immigration judges several years, and longer for final determinations if there are appeals.
To further deter unauthorized asylum seekers, the Biden administration introduced a requirement that foreigners who travel through a country where they could have applied for asylum cannot apply in the US. This so-called transit ban was found to be “arbitrary and capricious” by a federal judge in July 2023, but his decision was put on hold by a federal appeals court.
Texas has been supplementing federal border control efforts, installing razor wire and floating barriers along the Rio Grande River to deter illegal entries. Border-area residents initially approved the state’s additional deterrence measures, but several migrant deaths in summer 2023 began to erode support for Operation Lone Star.
Venezuelans. Some 7.1 million Venezuelans have left and resettled in other South American countries. Some of these resettled Venezuelans have entered the US, from which they cannot be deported to Venezuela.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and other Democrats urged DHS to grant Venezuelans the right to work immediately rather than after 180 days to reduce the cost of caring for them. Adams warned “this issue [the arrival of 10,000 migrants a month] will destroy New York City. Every service in this city is going to be impacted.” Governor J B Pritzker said that the migrant surge “created an untenable situation for Illinois.”
In September 2023, DHS agreed and granted TPS to 472,000 Venezuelans who were in the US before July 31, 2023, which allows them to work immediately for 18 months. Previously, 250,000 Venezuelans in the US before March 2021 received TPS.
Republicans say that granting TPS to Venezuelans will encourage more to come to the US, while Democrats say that allowing Venezuelans who cannot be deported to work alleviates labor shortages and allows them to support themselves.
TPS is extended frequently, so that citizens of some countries have had TPS status for over 20 years. As of March 2023, citizens of 16 countries have TPS: Afghanistan, Burma, Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and Yemen.
Republicans. Donald Trump is the frontrunner in summer 2023 for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of November 2024 elections, but Trump did not participate in the first two candidate debates. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is second to Trump in most polls, and doubled down on Trump’s approach to reducing illegal migration and drug smuggling by promising to send special forces into Mexico to confront drug cartels.
Republican presidential candidates often portray persons who cross the Mexico-US border illegally as a menace, echoing the two-thirds of Republicans who want to reduce immigration and asylum seeking. A 2023 Gallup poll found that over 40 percent of Americans believe that immigration should be decreased, and that the asylum seekers being admitted to the US and bussed to various cities are a “serious problem.”
The Republican-controlled House in September 2023 enacted legislation to increase spending to deter illegal entries at the border and make it more difficult for foreigners to obtain asylum in the US. Republicans also deposed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), ushering in a period of uncertainty and dampening prospects for legislative action on immigration and other issues.
More Americans are traveling abroad. Department of State expects to issue 25 million passports in 2023, up from 22 million in 2022, which has stretched the time for obtaining or renewing a passport to two months or more.
Cities. Democratic mayors of major cities complained of too many asylum seekers in summer 2023. One said: “The city of Chicago cannot go on welcoming new arrivals safely and capably without significant support and immigration policy changes.” New York City has received over 100,000 migrants, only 10 percent of whom were bussed north by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and was providing shelter to almost 60,000 migrants in September 2023 at an average cost of $400 a night.
Many cities have right-to-shelter laws that require all persons needing housing to receive city-provided shelter; New York City has had a right-to-housing policy since a 1981 legal settlement. FEMA is making shelter and service grants to cities and states that are receiving migrants, including $1 billion in 2023.
Most asylum seekers must wait 150 days before applying for work permits, but some are entitled to seek work permits immediately, including those who are granted TPS and some of the foreigners who have been paroled into the US. Working migrants are less likely to need housing and other aid from cities. The Biden administration in September 2023 sent over a million texts to migrants who are eligible for work permits to urge them to apply.