The total number of encounters along the southwest (SW) border with Mexico dropped by 37.9 percent in the month following President Biden’s new immigration and border plan. President Biden framed his plan as an immigration enforcement measure, but it was far more than that. Crucially, Biden vastly expanded legal migration to the United States by using the power of humanitarian parole that Congress explicitly gave presidents in 1952. Specifically, the Biden plan is allowing 30,000 migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti (VCNH migrants) to legally come to the United States each month.
VCNH migrants showing up at the SW border who were apprehended, inadmissible, or expelled declined by 75.8 percent in January 2023, of which only 27 days were covered by the new Biden border and immigration plan announced on January 5th (Figure 1). The number of VCNH migrants showing up at the border fell to 22,082 in January of 2023, down from 91,330 in December 2022 – a drop of 69,248. This is consistent with Cato’s theory that legal migration deters illegal migration and border crossings. Non-VCNH migrants who do not have the humanitarian parole option fell 16.5 percent from 160,648 in December 2022 to 134,192 – a decline of 26,456.
Figure 2 shows the number of people who were apprehended, inadmissible, or expelled normalized to 1 in December of 2019, which is a better way to show the scale of the drop. VCNH migrants increased vastly more than others during the period covered by the data (December 2019-January 2023) and fell dramatically after the announcement of the Biden border plan.
VCNH migrants can apply for humanitarian parole from their home countries, and they must meet all health standard, be screened for security purposes, and have a U.S. sponsor. Once approved, they can fly to the United States rather than paying a smuggler to bring them to the U.S. SW border. Once here, they can reside for two years, they can apply for a work permit, and they have little recourse to welfare. Importantly, that two year residency can be extended at any time. If close to 30,000 people are admitted every month from VCNH countries then the Biden immigration and border plan could be the largest immigration liberalization since 1965.
Looking at the individual countries tells a slightly different story. Venezuelans have had some access to humanitarian parole since October 2022. The number of Venezuelans who came to the SW border without authorization dropped by 64 percent from October to November of 2022 but have since stabilized at between about eight thousand and nine thousand a month. Their numbers rose by 11.6 percent from December 2022 to January 2023.
However, the number of people showing up at the border from Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba dropped substantially from December to January (Figure 3). The number of Nicaraguans dropped from 35,387 in December to 3,377 in January, a 91 percent decline. Haitians dropped by 5,138 to 3,175, a 38 percent decline. Cubans dropped by 85 percent, from 42,653 in December to 6,433 in January. Those are enormous declines for people from countries most recently added to humanitarian parole.
Biden’s migration plan is a serious departure from earlier enforcement-only policies. Biden’s plan achieves several goals. First, it greatly reduces the chaos along the SW border. That’s good for its own sake, helps clear the air for a serious immigration debate, and is politically astute for Biden which means that the incentives for good policy are politically aligned and sustainable. Second, the Biden plan increases legal immigration when the U.S. labor market demands new workers. Third, it defunds criminal networks and cartels by channeling many migrants into the legal system and away from the black market – reducing the violations of human rights that often occur because of human smuggling.
Until this point, the Biden administration has had a mixed record on immigration. We’ve criticized his policies where appropriate and also praised them. The Biden immigration plan isn’t perfect and it isn’t a long-term solution, but the humanitarian parole portion of it is a success of epic proportions.
In an earlier post, I wrote:
The catch-22 of immigration reform is that control of the border is politically necessary for expanding legal immigration, but the government can’t get control without expanding legal immigration. Channeling would-be illegal immigrants into the legal immigration system reduces chaos and increases government control over the border. President Biden’s latest action on immigration sounds like a big step toward fixing this. Notice how the administration’s fact sheet leads with enforcement while the portion allowing in more lawful immigrants comes after. The fact sheet begins with enforcement because the public thinks more enforcement will reduce chaos. Letting more Haitians enter lawfully has already worked to eliminate illegal Haitian border crossers and is also starting to work for Venezuelans. Expanding H-2 temporary guest worker visas for Mexicans had a similar effect before COVID. President Biden may have found a way around the catch-22 by taking lawful administrative action to reduce border chaos by channeling illegal crossers into a legal system.
Just as I predicted, it’s safe to say that President Biden’s border plan has been a resounding success so far. He should extend humanitarian parole to other countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Great article. Here’s what I am missing:
“VCNH migrants showing up at the SW border who were apprehended, inadmissible, or expelled declined by 75.8 percent in January 2023”
Are those people asylum seekers? If I understand correctly, they cross the border illegally and immediately turn themselves in asking for asylum. Is that correct?
So the way to stop illegal immigration is to make it legal? Whoda thunk? Oh, wait...