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A border strategy that gives more migrants a legal pathway to the U.S. to go on trial


After years of record apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, the White House is trying a new strategy to discourage migrants from crossing illegally, using a mix of carrots and sticks. This approach is being challenged in court, and now a case brought by Texas and other states is heading for trial, as NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: It was the first week of January when the White House announced a new way for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela to come to the U.S. legally. And Valerie Laveus wasted no time.

VALERIE LAVEUS: I was like, God, you answered prayers. I am so grateful. And I jumped on it. I literally applied the 17th of January.

ROSE: Laveus was born in Haiti and came to the U.S. when she was 18. She is now a U.S. citizen and a teacher in South Florida. For years, Laveus has been trying to bring her brother and nephew to join her as conditions in Haiti got worse and worse. Then she found out that Texas and other states are suing to block the new program.

LAVEUS: I heard about the fact that they're trying to cancel it. My heart sunk to my feet.

ROSE: Finally, Laveus' brother and nephew were approved. They flew to join her in Florida earlier this month.

LAVEUS: All anybody wants who lives in unrest is to have peace, to have some family time, to be able to get the basic needs met instead of living in fear of death, fear of hunger.

ROSE: Laveus' brother and nephew are among the more than 180,000 migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela who have been admitted to the U.S. under the new program, with permission to live and work here for two years. The Biden administration says this is part of a broader strategy to discourage illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border by opening up new legal alternatives. Here's Blas Nunez-Neto, a top immigration official at the Department of Homeland Security in May.


BLAS NUNEZ-NETO: We have overseen the most significant expansion in lawful pathways for people to come to the United States in many decades.

ROSE: But the president's critics are not convinced.


KEN PAXTON: He's just making this up. It's his own law, his own rules.

ROSE: That's Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaking to Fox News in January, shortly before filing a lawsuit to block the new program. Paxton accuses Biden of admitting hundreds of thousands of migrants into the U.S. with no legal basis.


PAXTON: And he doesn't run it through Congress. He doesn't run it through anybody. It's his own deal.

ROSE: The Biden administration says it does have a legal basis for what it's doing - an authority known as parole. In the past, presidents of both parties have used parole to admit non-citizens into the country, sometimes in big numbers. Still, no administration has relied on parole programs quite this much to admit more than half a million people into the country, including lots of Ukrainians and Afghans.

MARK KRIKORIAN: This administration has just punched through the envelope.

ROSE: Mark Krikorian is with the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington that advocates for lower levels of immigration.

KRIKORIAN: This administration has used parole as the vehicle to create an entirely separate, illegal system of admitting foreigners to the United States.

ROSE: Krikorian says parole was intended to give authorities some wiggle room, but it is supposed to be handed out on a case-by-case basis, when there is a significant public benefit to doing so.

KRIKORIAN: The idea of using parole to admit numbers that reach the thousands is preposterous.

ROSE: The Biden administration insists that it is making decisions on a case-by-case basis. It's preparing to make that argument in court later this week, when a federal judge in Texas holds a crucial hearing. And the administration is getting help in the case from some of the people who've sponsored their friends and relatives from abroad. Monica Langarica is a lawyer with the UCLA Center for Immigration Law and Policy. She represents those sponsors.

MONICA LANGARICA: Not only is this entirely consistent with the law, but it's also no different from what other administrations have done for years.

ROSE: The family members Langarica is representing include Valerie Laveus, the woman we met earlier who brought her brother and nephew to Florida from Haiti, and also German Cadenas, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University who sponsored his uncle from Venezuela.

GERMAN CADENAS: He's just a very decent, good human being. And for me to be able to help him ease the burden that he's been under has been incredibly rewarding. And it's, like, the least I can do.

ROSE: And it's the least the country can do, Cadenas says, to keep these legal pathways open.

Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.