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The impact of Biden's popular humanitarian parole for migrants, one year later

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This week marks one year since the Biden administration launched a humanitarian parole program for migrants from Venezuela, later expanded to Cuba, Haiti and Nicaragua. The aim was to alleviate the crisis at the U.S. southern border. Tim Padgett of member station WLRN reports the parole program has been so popular that Venezuelans fear the U.S. has underestimated the demand.

NIA: Hi, how are you?

TIM PADGETT, BYLINE: Everywhere she goes these days, 7-year-old Nia is practicing English. On this recent visit to a Starbucks near Miami, Nia is determined to chat with the cashier. She's buying a treat her family could rarely find or afford back in Venezuela - chocolate milk.

NIA: Thank you.

PADGETT: Nia's mother, Meliana Bruguera, beams down at her. They arrived from Venezuela in May after being approved for the Biden administration's new humanitarian parole for migrants, for those who want to escape economic collapse and dictatorships in Latin America. They can come and work in the U.S. for two years, but they need a sponsor here. Bruguera is a lawyer, and she insists the need for the parole is real. Venezuelans are dealing with the worst humanitarian crisis in modern South American history and an oppressive authoritarian regime.

MELIANA BRUGUERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: "Staying alive there was hard," Bruguera says, "not just the food shortages, but the political persecution, too." Bruguera also wanted to avoid the dangerous trip so many Venezuelans make on foot through the Darien jungle between Colombia and Panama to get to the U.S.

BRUGUERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: She says she saw the horrible videos on social media a year ago just as she was trying to decide whether to make the Darien jungle crossing with her own family. Then news broke that Venezuelans could apply for the parole program, a project meant to stop migrants from flooding the U.S. border.

BRUGUERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: Bruguera says she still cries thinking about the relief the parole news brought her. She quickly signed up. Her sponsor is a friend who lives near Miami, and she hoped to be in the U.S. by Christmas. It didn't happen. In January, the parole program added Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans. U.S. officials started accepting a total of 30,000 applicants per month. Bruguera considered herself chronologically way ahead in the line, but her approval didn't come until the end of April.

BRUGUERA: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: "The program is our best hope," she told me, "but the waiting hurts." Many Venezuelans have grown impatient waiting for approval and instead set out for the U.S. by land through the Darien Gap, which is seeing record crossings in recent months. A Venezuelan woman named Norbelis was among them.

NORBELIS: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: "It felt like the brakes had been put on my application," Norbelis said. We're not using her full name to protect her identity. She too signed up early for the parole but gave up waiting. In May, the single mother left her teenage son behind, made it through the Darien jungle and entered the U.S. as an asylum-seeker. The former bank accounts manager now cleans hotel rooms in Florida.

NORBELIS: (Speaking Spanish).

PADGETT: "I can't keep waiting for the miracle of a better life," Norbelis said, "I have to go out and get the miracle." Immigration advocates fear only a fraction of those who've applied for the parole have been processed. The Department of Homeland Security says it is meeting its goal of 30,000 approvals per month. Officials say they would need more resources to expand the program. Meanwhile, attorneys general from more than 20 Republican-led states have sued to shut down Biden's parole program.

For NPR news, I'm Tim Padgett in Miami.

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Tim Padgett
Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.