Judge Upholds Biden Program Giving Some Immigrants Short-Term Legal Status

A federal judge on Friday allowed the Biden administration to continue a program that it has used to give temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of citizens of Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Known as humanitarian parole, the program has offered people from the troubled countries an alternative to entering the United States illegally, and has been central to the administration’s strategy to curb the influx of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border.

President Biden has faced considerable criticism for his administration’s handling of the border, and Texas and other Republican-led states had sued the administration to block the parole program. But Judge Drew B. Tipton of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas sided with the administration, saying the states had failed to establish they had standing on any of their claims.

The Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, said he was pleased by the decision in a statement on Friday, calling the program “a key element of our efforts to address the unprecedented level of migration throughout our hemisphere.”

The ruling is a blow to Texas, which has filed a spate of lawsuits against the Biden administration as part of its effort to shape immigration policy, historically a federal responsibility.

The states that signed onto the lawsuit, including Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas, argued that the program had burdened them with additional costs for health care, education and law enforcement. They also argued that the Biden administration was simply inviting many people who otherwise would have entered the country illegally to come to the United States.

Even as the overall number of migrant crossings has stayed at historically high levels, the number of unlawful crossings by nationals from countries in the program has declined. The judge concluded that the states could not argue they had been harmed by a program that had led to a reduction in border crossings.

“The record establishes that the number of CHNV [Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan] nationals entering the United States since the program’s implementation has dramatically decreased by as much as 44 percent,” the judge wrote in his 31-page decision.

“Plaintiffs, therefore, are unable to demonstrate that they have been injured by the program, and as a result they lack standing to bring these claims,” he added.

Texas is almost certain to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Texas, and the case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court, experts said.

The lawsuit, f iled last year by Texas on behalf of 21 states, was the first to challenge the use of the president’s immigration parole authority in federal court. The program allows nationals of designated countries to obtain a two-year period of parole, or temporary permission, to live and work in the United States, provided they have a financial sponsor to support them.

As of the end of January, nearly 360,000 people had been approved to participate. Sponsorship typically comes from a relative or other individual, who is often backed by a house of worship whose members pool funds.

“Today’s decision is a victory for people who have jumped at the opportunity to sponsor loved ones under this program, and it is a critical repudiation of Texas’ attempt to hold immigration policy hostage for the entire country,” said Monika Y. Langarica, senior staff attorney for the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the U.C.L.A. School of Law, which defended the program in court.

Last summer, the Supreme Court overturned a 2022 decision by Judge Tipton and ruled that the Biden administration could set priorities for which undocumented immigrants to arrest. That ruling influenced the outcome of the humanitarian parole case, according to legal experts, because it sent the message that states had to prove they were being adversely effected by a policy to sue; they couldn’t go to court just because they disagreed with it.

Judge Tipton, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, also noted that state expenditures related to illegal immigration declined after the program was put in place.

“The court has before it a case in which plaintiffs claim that they have been injured by a program that has actually lowered their out-of-pocket costs,’’ he wrote.

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, which advocates on behalf of immigrants, called the ruling “a big success for the Biden administration.”

The use of parole authority goes back decades. It was used to admit nearly 200,000 Cubans in the 1960s and more than 350,000 Southeast Asians after the fall of Saigon in the Vietnam War. The Biden administration unveiled a humanitarian parole program in April 2022 for Ukrainians fleeing war, with no cap on the number of participants. None of the 21 states who joined the lawsuit have sought to terminate the program for Ukrainians.

In introducing a new humanitarian parole program, first for Venezuelans in late 2022 and then for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans in January 2023, the federal government was aiming to dissuade people from trying to cross the U.S. southern border illegally by offering the possibility of a legal pathway for which they could apply from their home countries.

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Nan Langowitz has sponsored two Venezuelan families and her synagogue in Wellesley, Mass., has assisted families from Afghanistan and Syria. Ms. Langowitz, who submitted a declaration to the court in favor of the program, said she was “elated” by Friday’s ruling.

“I look forward to continuing to welcome other newcomers who can contribute their energy to our country,” she said.

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