The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Just two days after I published a Washington Post op ed urging expansion of the Uniting for Ukraine private refugee sponsorship model to include migrants from other nations, the Biden Administration did exactly that – announcing that a similar approach will be used to accept up to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. In reality, the two events were probably unconnected! Regardless, still a step in the right direction.
According to the White House "fact sheet" released today, "up to 30,000 individuals per month from these four countries, who have an eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks, can come to the United States for a period of two years and receive work authorization." If I understand it, this is 30,000 total from, all four nations combined, not 30,000 from each one.
This system is very similar to the conditions of the highly successful Uniting for Ukraine program, described in my article, except that the latter has no monthly numerical cap. The Administration had previously created a much more limited version of the program for Venezuelan refugees, capped at just 24,000 total participants. Today's measure is a huge expansion.
As explained in my previous writings on private refugee sponsorship and Uniting for Ukraine (e.g. here and here), this sort of system admits refugees far faster than the sclerotic traditional refugee system, bolsters our economy, and improves America's position in the international "war of ideas" against despots like Russia's Vladimir Putin, Refugees from Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are fleeing repressive anti-American communist and socialist regimes. During the Cold War, conservatives understood the moral and strategic advantages of opening our doors to refugees from communism. Today, sadly, too many of them prioritize nativism instead.
This move also undermines claims that Uniting for Ukraine privileges mostly white Ukrainian refugees over non-white ones fleeing comparable ones elsewhere. Most migrants from the four countries covered by today's new initiative are not "white," as that admittedly arbitrary concept is usually understood in the US. Haitian migrants are overwhelmingly black, as are some Cubans. To the extent there has been a double standard here, the right approach to is to "level up." Today, the Administration moved in that direction.
Ideally, the system should be open to those fleeing poverty and oppression, regardless of country. But today's announcement is a major step in the right direction, nonetheless.
Even so, this expanded program, like Uniting for Ukraine, has two major limitations noted in my recent article about the latter:
First, the residency and work permits last only two years. Experience shows that many refugees need permanent homes, not just temporary ones. Permanence also enables them to make greater economic and social contributions to our society.
Second, the program is largely the product of executive discretion. If the political winds shift and President Biden (or a successor) decides to terminate it, participants could be subject to deportation. Congress should pass legislation to permanently fix these flaws.
As noted in the article, fixing these flaws likely requires congressional action.
Today's expansion of private refugee sponsorship is unfortunately coupled with various harmful "border enforcement" measures that will expand expulsion of migrants at the border. By making legal entry more difficult for those who do not qualify for the expanded private sponsorship system, these steps will predictably worsen the situation at the border, and increase suffering among migrants. The Administration also continues to play what looks like a cynical double game on cruel Title 42 "public health" expulsions.
We should not lose sight of these wrongs. At the same time, however, the Biden Administration has also made many improvements in immigration policy. The introduction of large-scale private refugee sponsorship is one of its most impressive achievements. Hopefully, this will not be the last expansion of the system.
UPDATE: I have made minor additions to this post.