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Migrants get on a bus at Border Control. Photo: Kako Escalona / El Estornudo.

The Numbers Behind the New US Parole Program for Cubans

16 / enero / 2023

The Biden Administration’s decision to stop Cubans, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans and Haitians from entering the US illegally, and to establish a special parole process for these citizens comes in response to an inescapable issue for US domestic policy: irregular migration, especially across its southern border.

Biden’s announcement on January 5, 2023, had been predicted by some media outlets with sources inside Government agencies. Ever since October 2022, Venezuelans have been subjected to a process similar to the one Cubans will now have to face and, for that matter, the US Administration already had statistics to analyze results from its previous experiment at the time of Biden’s announcement. 

An experiment with the mission to stop the migration wave to the US. In the 2022 fiscal year (from October 2021 until October 2022), 2,766,582 migrants were intercepted between the Office of Field of Operations and US Border Control, which represents a 30% growth approximately compared to 2021 (1,956,519) and 76% compared to 2020 (646,822). 

But what were the results of the process that was applied to Venezuelan migrants? Did parole stop Venezuelans entering the US illegally?

According to a statement from the US Department of Homeland Security on January 5, 2023, the week after the announcement about the New Migration Enforcement Process for Venezuelans (October 12, 2022), the number of its citizens who tried to enter the country illegally across the southern border, fell from 1,100 per day to approximately 200. By the end of the second week of December 2022 (almost two months after its implementation), the average number of Venezuelans trying to enter the US illegally dropped to 86 per day. 

This change in policy also had a direct effect on Venezuelans who were on their way to the southern U.S. border. Reports cited by the US government state that approximately 40,600 Venezuelans entered Panama via the Darien Gap, on the border with Colombia, in October 2022 – before the parole announcement for Venezuelans.                                                                                                                                                                                               But in November 2022, this number had dropped by 98% (only 668 Venezuelans entered Panama).

According to US authorities, these numbers prove that the announcement had clear consequences for people crossing the southern US border illegally – deportation and invalidation for five years to be able to apply for parole -, and an incentive for migrants to wait where they are and use parole “can significantly change the migration flow.”

Statistics regarding Cubans

With statistics proving the parole program’s efficiency to stop the migration wave, it was just a matter of time before a similar process was applied to Cubans, who became (in the first three months of the 2023 US fiscal year) the second group of citizens with the highest number of migrants reaching the southern border. In the months leading up to the Parole program for Cubans, its citizens represented 16.3% of all migrants reaching the US across its southern border. 

Official statistics reveal that in the 2022 fiscal year, approximately 220,000 Cubans reached the southern US border. The monthly average of Cubans reaching their northern neighbor stood at 17,800, last year. While the number didn’t pass 589 between 2014 and 2019. 

Figures showed that 2023 promised to be a year where the migration flow of Cubans wouldn’t stop unless measures were taken. At the time policy changes for Cubans was announced, the US authorities announced that 62,788 Cubans had been intercepted at its southern border, between October and November. In just two months, a third of the total number of Cubans who made their way to the US in the 2022 fiscal year, had reached the border. This trend continued in December, and in the first ten days of this month, with 15,657 Cubans reaching US soil.

If you take a look at these figures, the trend could have been an average of 30,000 Cubans arriving every month in 2023. In this case, numbers would have grown by over 70% compared to 2022. 

On the other hand, irregular migration of Cubans via sea has also surged in the past year and before the announcement of changes to US immigration policy. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard intercepted 6,182 Cubans in the 2022 fiscal year. This represents a 600% increase compared to 2021, when only 838 Cubans were intercepted.

During 2022, the number of rafters arriving by land, who were then arrested by US authorities, also grew. Between October 2021 and the same month in 2022, they stopped 2,657 Cubans on the southern coast (including Miami, New Orleans and Ramey), which was the equivalent of 46% of the total number of people entering illegally by sea. This number represents a 1,040% increase compared to the 2021 fiscal year. 

In the first two months of the 2023 fiscal year (October and November 2022), this trend was also on the rise, as the US Coast Guard stopped 1,917 Cubans during this period, which represented three quarters of all interceptions in 2022, and 72% of arrests in this area of the country in the 2023 fiscal year so far. 

Policy impediments and green lights 

The new policy announced by Biden on January 5, 2023 was unthinkable a year ago. Ever since February 2020, the Cuban Government used health matters and refused to receive Cubans who were deported from the US. Meanwhile, the Mexican Government expressed its non-conformity with receiving Cubans back after they crossed the US-Mexico border illegally, unless they had immediate family members who were Mexican citizens or had some kind of legal status in the country. 

During the 2022 fiscal year, the US Government didn’t return anyone who crossed its southern border back to Cuba. During that period, only 4,710 Cubans were returned to Mexico. This number accounts for 2% of the total number of Cubans who crossed the border between October 2021 and October 2022. 

Now, the Mexican Government issued a statement along with the US Government’s announcement, announcing that they would be willing to receive 30,000 Venezuelan, Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan citizens being returned from the US every month, having reached an agreement with the Biden Administration.

Within the context of the second round of conversations in 2022 about immigration issues between the Cuban and US Governments, the island’s Ministry of Foreign Relations declared, in November, its willingness to receive citizens deported from the US.

With the obstacle of where to send deportees now unblocked, the policy that had been previously applied to Venezuelans was now ready to be extended to other nationalities, such as Cubans, who represented a large percentage of the migrants that reach the US every year.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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