The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


More Evidence that Biden's Private Sponsorship Migrant Parole Policy Reduced Illegal Migration by Making the Legal Kind Easier

A new study by the conservative Manhattan Institute concludes that the expansion of private sponsorship parole to migrants from Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Venezuela has reduced illegal migration across the southern border by about 98,000 per month.


Venezuelans fleeing the socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro.


On January 5, the Biden Administration extended the private sponsorship migration system used by the successful Uniting for Ukraine  program to include  up to 30,000 migrants per month from four Latin American countries: Cuba,  Nicaragua, Venezuela,and Haiti ("CNVH").  Migrants from these countries can quickly gain legal entry into the United States and the right to live and work here for up to two years, if they pass a simple background check and have a private sponsor in the US who commits to providing support.

In a March 30 post, I summarized evidence indicating that this program has significantly reduced illegal migration from the CNVH countries, and thereby reduced pressure on the southern border. It does so by offering potential migrants a way to enter legally that is preferable to the illegal route. A new study by Daniel Di Martino, published by the conservative Manhattan Institute, provides extensive new evidence documenting this dynamic. Di Martino's paper isn't the first analysis to reach the same conclusion. In addition to the early evidence referenced in my March post, we also Customs and Border Protection data indicating that  between the announcement of the parole program on January 5 and March 31, average daily encounters outside ports of entry, with migrants from the four countries covered declined by 72%.

But Di Martino's assessment is the most thorough, sophisticated, and up-to-date study we have so far. And it is sponsored by a conservative organization that, to understate the point, isn't generally known for being supportive of either immigration liberalization or the Biden Administration. Here are excerpts from the author's summary of his findings and recommendations:

The Biden administration's parole programs are successfully reducing both illegal immigration and total immigration into the U.S., and they are shifting the composition of immigrants so that they are more self-sufficient and reliant on their existing social networks, rather than dependent on government assistance. Maintaining and improving parole will be even more important now that Title 42 has expired and the U.S. government has lost another tool for reducing illegal immigration.

The parole program for migrants from Venezuela began in October 2022 and expanded to Cuba, Haiti, and Nicaragua in January 2023. Approximately 102,000 people were paroled into the U.S. from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela (CHNV) from October 2022 until April 2023, the most recent numbers available. Through March 2023, the program has prevented the entry of more than 380,000 illegal immigrants into the United States….

The CHNV parole program is expected to admit up to 30,000 immigrants per month, but it has reduced combined illegal immigration by more than 98,000 immigrants per month. (The total is 30,000 admitted per month, for all four countries.) This reduces net migration into the U.S. by approximately 68,000 migrants every month, or up to 820,000 annually…..

To build on the success of these existing parole programs, this report makes the following recommendations:

  • The CHNV program could be improved by exempting parolees from filing a work-permit request form and authorizing them to work incident to status, as with Ukrainian and Afghan parolees.
  • USCIS should begin charging a cost-recovery fee for sponsors filing the required form I-134A to hire more personnel and not delay processing of other legal immigration applications that need its attention.
  • A rolling parole program targeting countries with high rates of illegal immigration to the U.S. could help reduce illegal immigration and perhaps even total immigration into the United States.

Di Martino also compiles evidence indicating that the Uniting for Ukraine has significantly reduced illegal migration across the southern border by Ukrainian citizens.

I agree with Di Martino's main conclusions about pressure on the border, and most of his policy recommendations, particularly expanding the parole system to cover more countries and simplifying the bureaucratic process for securing work permits. As a sponsor in the Uniting for Ukraine program, I can confirm from experience that the latter is a serious annoyance. However, I am not convinced the program will actually reduce total migration into the US in the longterm. If it continues, more people will make use of it over time, thereby potentially increasing migration, overall, at least the legal kind. Because of the 30,000 per month cap, it may take them longer to come. But come they likely will. I, of course, don't regard that as a bad thing.

I also disagree with the recommendation to impose a "cost-recovery fee" for I-134A forms. Social science evidence suggests that even modest bureaucratic obstacles can significantly reduce participation in various programs. Imposing a fee is likely to reduce the number of Americans willing to serve as sponsors, thereby diminishing the benefits of the program. People hate having to do paperwork, and they hate having to pay a fee for the "privilege" of doing it even more. The costs of processing the forms can instead be more than offset by the extra tax revenue produced by parolees who work in the US.

In my view, the really great benefits of Uniting for Ukraine and CNVH are enabling many thousands of people to escape war, violence, poverty and oppression, and the economic benefits of giving them the opportunity to work in a society where they can be more productive and innovative. The latter benefits both the migrants themselves and current American citizens. By comparison, reducing disorder at the border is a secondary advantage, at most. But it's a very politically salient one.

Di Martino's findings are also relevant to currently ongoing litigation in which twenty red-state governments have filed a suit challenging the legality of the CNVH program. As I have previously explained, the relevant statute authorizes the president to use parole to let in migrants "for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit." Reducing pressure on the southern border qualifies as such a "significant public benefit." Or at least it does if you believe the governors of the plaintiff states, some of whom have  been loudly complaining about illegal border crossings, and claiming they constitute a major crisis.