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Florida immigration groups support parole process for Cuba, Haiti after Mayorkas visit

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 1/31/2023 Syra Ortiz Blanes, Sonia Osorio, Miami Herald

Florida immigration advocacy groups voiced strong support Tuesday for a new parole process for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, while criticizing Florida and other states challenging the Biden administration over the program.

“I have seen firsthand how this program has brought families together and provided opportunities for a better life for our people,” said Maria Antonieta Díaz, president of the Venezuelan American Alliance, during a virtual press conference in English, Spanish and Creole.

Díaz said she and her husband have been able to sponsor 20 people through the program and blasted the Republican-led states who filed the lawsuit on Jan. 24, saying that Venezuelans are not going on dangerous journeys on foot to the U.S.-Mexico border “for no reason.” The Biden administration credits the parole program with drastically cutting down the number of migrants trying to enter the United States through the southern border.

“We feel deep pain and indignation as the suffering of our people is being used by the leaders of the Republican Party as a political weapon,” she said.

The press conference, which the Venezuelan American Caucus and other local groups organized, came a day after President Joe Biden’s top immigration official, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, visited South Florida and met with Haitian and Cuban community leaders, immigration lawyers and activists, county officials and religious leaders.

Through the initiative announced by the Biden administration on Jan. 5, people from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua are authorized to come to the United States for up to two years. However, they must have a sponsor already in the U.S. who can support them financially. The migrants also have to pay for their airplane tickets and pass background and health checks.

The Department of Homeland Security hopes that by accepting up to 30,000 people a month through the program, it will curb irregular migration amid a rise in people from the four countries attempting to come to the U.S. Last week, the agency said that preliminary January numbers showed that encounters at the southwest border with Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans had fallen as much as 97% compared to December.

However, Texas, Florida and 18 other states filed suit in federal court against the program, arguing that the agency is abusing its power to dole out humanitarian paroles and that caring for a new population of newly arrived immigrants through the program will put a serious strain on state coffers. In the case of Florida, the lawsuit says that the state already spends “significant state resources on providing state services to illegal aliens within the state.”

But Tessa Petit, executive director of the Florida Immigration Coalition, said on Tuesday that “the governor’s decision to participate in the lawsuit against the humanitarian parole... is a reinforcement of the anti-immigrant sentiment being encouraged in our state.”

Ana Sofia Pelaez, a Cuban-American co-founder of the Miami Freedom Project, also defended the parole program, noting that it offers a path to legal and “above all safe” migration.

Pelaez met Mayorkas, with other Cubans about the humanitarian program on Monday. The Cuban-American activist said that during the meeting, proposals were even made to improve it.

“It’s solutions our community needs .. not lawsuits that only confuse the process and introduce chaos,” said Pelaez, daughter of a former Pedro Pan kid, a program that in the 1960s allowed more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to come to the U.S.

Immigration advocates at the press conference Tuesday also denied the plaintiff states’ argument, saying that the sponsor requirement, as well as the fact that migrants receive a work authorization after they come to the U.S. through the parole process, removes financial burdens on local governments. They also argued that the program can help solve the labor shortage several U.S. industries are facing.

“I do urge the administration to continue the parole program and to explore a pathway to permanent status,” said Church World Service Legal Director and Doral City Commissioner Maureen Porras, who was born in Nicaragua.

Samuel Vilchez Santiago, state director for the American Business Immigration Coalition, said his aunt and cousin had come through the program last month and were already working in hospitality jobs in Central Florida.

“Our businesses are in dire need of workers, and these migrants come here to work,” he said.

©2023 Miami Herald. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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