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IRAP Urges USCIS Not to Terminate Important Humanitarian Parole Programs

Last week, IRAP sent a letter to Secretary Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Tracy Renaud, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asking them to reconsider the termination of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program (HFRP) and Filipino World War II Veteran Parole Program (FWVP).

“Parole” allows a person who has not yet been admitted into the United States for purposes of immigration law to enter, or be “paroled in,” to the United States temporarily. This person would otherwise not yet have a visa, or means to obtain a visa, to be formally “admitted” into the country, but if granted parole they can physically enter even without that formal admission. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security can parole a non-citizen into the United States for urgent humanitarian reasons or when there is significant public benefit. Unlike an immigrant visa – which a noncitizen paroled into the country through HFRP or FWVP has applied for and is still waiting to receive, given caps on the number of immigrant visas and long waiting times for many nationalities – parole is a temporary status and can be granted more quickly, in recognition of the humanitarian urgency or public benefit. In addition to the case-by-case form of humanitarian parole, there are several special U.S. parole programs, including HFRP and FWVP. 

These two parole programs are critical pathways to family reunification for the Haitian and Filipino communities in the United States. DHS established HFRP in 2014 to reunite long-separated families, while they wait for immigrant visas to become available – thereby also supporting Haiti’s long-term post-earthquake reconstruction and development. The FWVP program was similarly created in 2016 to recognize the contributions of Filipino veterans who fought for the United States during World War II and allow families to reunite to care for their elderly veterans and veterans’ spouses, while waiting for immigrant visas to become available. Beneficiaries of both programs are family members of U.S. permanent residents or citizens and have already been approved to immigrate to the United States; HFRP and FWVP protect these vulnerable groups from prolonged family separations due to interminable wait times.

In the last months of the Trump Administration, DHS and USCIS took action to terminate HFRP and FWVP. In December 2020, USCIS published a Notice requesting public comments on administrative changes necessary to terminate HFRP and FWVP. USCIS attempted to justify the termination of HFRP and FWVP as pursuant to former President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order 13767, which included provisions on alleged “abuse of parole…to prevent the removal of unlawful aliens” and directed the Secretary of DHS to “ensure that parole authority…is exercised only on a case-by-case basis.”

Aside from the flawed legal arguments that USCIS posits for narrowing the scope of humanitarian parole programs, the executive order on which the proposed termination is based has been rescinded since publication of the Notice. On February 4 of this year, President Biden issued Executive Order 14013, “Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs To Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” which revokes Executive Order 13767. President Biden has also ordered the Secretary of Homeland Security to “promptly take steps to rescind any agency memoranda or guidance issued in reliance on or in furtherance of” the revoked Executive Order.

Both of these important programs adhere in full faith to the policy principles of family unity and humanitarian protection laid out by President Biden in Executive Order 14013. In light of this and the revocation of Executive Order 13767, IRAP strongly urges DHS and USCIS in its letter to withdraw the December proposal and to maintain, rather than terminate, the HFRP and FRVP programs.

IRAP also encourages DHS to consider additional humanitarian parole programs and guidance in line with the directives laid out in Executive Order 14013, which directs that the policy of the Administration shall be that: “United States humanitarian programs should be administered in a manner that … reflects the principle that reunifying families is in the national interest” and “[e]xecutive departments and agencies…should explore the use of all available authorities for humanitarian protection to assist individuals for whom USRAP is unavailable.” 

In IRAP’s report on “Expanding Complementary Pathways for Refugees and Displaced Persons: A Blueprint for the U.S. Government,” we provide recommendations to expand and strengthen the use of humanitarian parole, including that the U.S. government initiate policymaking and rulemaking, where appropriate, to finalize guidance by the end of Fiscal Year 2021 to consider family separation as an urgent humanitarian reason and family reunification as a significant public benefit that can merit an approval or humanitarian parole. The successful reunification of families through HFRP and FWVP over the past several years demonstrates how parole can fulfill this family reunification function.