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Asylum seekers say US financial backers are hard to come by

MIAMI (AP) — Migrants and asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries are increasingly finding that protection in the United States is available to those with money or who are savvy enough to find someone to vouch for them. financially.

President Joe Biden announced Thursday a massive expansion of humanitarian parole for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, which is reserved for those who apply online, pay for airfare and have a financial sponsor for two years.

It builds on a measure introduced in October to allow 24,000 Venezuelans into the United States for two years if they have sponsors and, on the other hand, quickly expel anyone who crosses the border illegally back to Mexico, making it impossible for them to seek asylum. . .

María Antonieta Diaz, a Venezuelan accountant and entrepreneur who has lived in the US for more than two decades, sent a WhatsApp message to former classmates in Venezuela after the Biden administration offered humanitarian parole on October 12, asking if they needed a sponsor. She set up a website, distributed a registration form, and received 40,000 responses from people seeking financial support, some of them entire families.

Maria Antonieta Diaz stands at her desk Thursday, January 5, 2023 in Miramar, Florida. Diaz has sponsored several Venezuelans through a parole program that began in October. The Biden administration has announced it will expand the program to include Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians who wish to enter the US. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Diaz vouched for a man who came with two adult sons but left behind his wife, daughter, her spouse and 6-month-old baby because they couldn’t afford the $200 passport renewal.

According to Diaz, many in the US are reluctant to sponsor strangers, fearing they will be hooked for any debt.

“It’s not easy, it’s not a perfect program, not everyone will be able to take advantage of it,” Diaz said in a phone interview from her office in Miramar, a suburb northwest of Miami.

Biden said Thursday that up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans will be eligible for humanitarian parole every month, making them eligible to work in the US for two years. At the same time, Mexico agreed to accept the same amount from the four countries that enter the US illegally, even if they are coming for asylum.

US officials pointed to a 90 percent drop in the number of Venezuelans arriving after a policy change in October, ending their short-lived status as the second-largest nationality on the border after Mexicans. The Biden administration granted parole on similar terms to 100,000 Ukrainians after the Russian invasion.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mallorcas did not directly answer the question of limiting parole to those who have financial support, saying only that such a policy towards Venezuelans and Ukrainians was successful.

“What we have seen is a huge thirst for these legitimate programs,” Mallorcas said at a press conference. “We believe this is a humane, legal and orderly way.”

Mallorcas said the policy would remain in place for as long as conditions dictate, possibly even beyond the pandemic-era rule known as Section 42, which has denied migrants 2.5 million times the opportunity to seek asylum under U.S. law. and international law on the basis of proliferation prevention. COVID-19. The US Supreme Court is due to hear Section 42 arguments in February.

He said US officials are also working on a plan whereby people can seek asylum through scheduled meetings at border crossings.

Herlin Yosef, chief executive of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, said telling people who are fleeing extreme conditions in their countries to stay put is unacceptable and wonders how someone in a dire situation traveling across America without a phone or access to the embassy, ​​must use the app to make an appointment to apply for asylum.

“This is completely unrelated to the reality of people fleeing for asylum,” Josef told reporters on Friday.

Under laws that grew out of World War II and the Cold War, asylum seekers must prove that they face persecution at home on limited grounds such as race, political opinion or religious belief, regardless of financial status. Some of those who arrive at the border will later be granted asylum through the US immigration courts, but not all will qualify.

Under the parole policy, the Department of Homeland Security can accept anyone “on a case-by-case basis for urgent humanitarian reasons or in connection with a significant public benefit.”

Critics to Biden’s right, such as Trump’s former top adviser Stephen Miller, have called the parole extension a “massive amnesty.”

In October, Dr. Kyle Varner of Spokane, Washington, received hundreds of responses when he wrote on Facebook that he was ready to sponsor Venezuelans. He set aside a four-room house he bought as an investment.

So far, Varner has backed 49 Venezuelans, most of whom he has never seen. Only eight were approved and settled in Spokane.

Varner, 38, fell in love with Venezuelans as a medical student in Miami in 2012, surrounded by neighbors who left the South American country in search of a better life. As a doctor, he says he can provide medical assistance if needed, business contacts for finding a job, and help with learning English online.

“My idea is that I am a launch pad for people to start a new life,” he said. “I intend to do my best to advocate for the expansion of this program, and I also want to help Americans who want to become sponsors.”

Dr. Kyle Varner (center), who sponsors and places people under the Venezuelan Humanitarian Parole Program, poses for a photo in his home with program beneficiaries (left to right): Cesar Baez, Genderson Rondon, Henry Nadales and Maria Amare , Friday, January 6th. , 2023, Spokane, Washington. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Few Venezuelans have been lucky enough to find a man like Varner, who traveled four times to Cucuta, a Colombian city on the border with Venezuela, to provide free medical care to fleeing Venezuelans.

Potential volunteers may be hesitant to provide tax returns or other required documents, said Parker Newbern, program coordinator for the charity Home for Refugees. According to him, many Venezuelans have relatives in the United States, but not everyone is able to sponsor them.

Jenderson Rondon, an opponent of the Venezuelan government who met Varner in 2019 at the Colombian border, arrived in Spokane in November. He couldn’t afford the flight that the doctor had paid for. He has applied for jobs in restaurants and hospitals and hopes to save enough to sponsor his mother and sister, who are in Colombia and do not have valid passports.

“There are a lot of people who can’t find a sponsor,” said Rondon, who constantly gets messages on his Instagram account asking about opportunities.

22-year-old Venezuelan lawyer Henry Nodales never met the doctor, but they had mutual friends. He borrowed money from a friend to pay for the flight and hopes to earn enough to feed his parents and sister at home.

“I have a wonderful opportunity to get legal status, an advantage that many do not have,” he said.

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Thaksin reported from Orange County, California and Spagat from San Diego.

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