As Democrats search for a way to legalize illegal immigrants in their massive budget bill, a new analysis Tuesday says they could grant a tentative foothold to some 7.1 million immigrants through the use of “parole” powers.
Parole has been used to bring smaller groups of people into the country, including for tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees who were airlifted to the U.S. But Democrats are eyeing a mass parole that would cover a majority of immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, calculated that if parole were granted to anyone who made it into the U.S. before Jan. 1, 2011, it would cover 7.1 million immigrants.
Parole is not an automatic pathway to citizenship, so it falls short of the demands of immigrant-rights activists, but it is a tentative legal status that comes with the chance to get work permits and access to some taxpayer benefits, and often paves the way for future naturalization.
The analysts at CAP called it “a durable, long-term protection.”
“As senators pursue all avenues to grant relief to undocumented immigrants, parole is an important policy consideration that should pass parliamentary muster,” the analysts said.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have had two previous plans for legalization rejected by the Senate parliamentarian, who said a proposal that includes offering green cards — the key step toward citizenship — to undocumented immigrants is too big of a policy to shoehorn into the current budget debate.
That’s left Democrats searching for a “Plan C” option, and parole has surfaced as the top contender.
The CAP analysts said parole isn’t a permanent status and brings more limited benefits than green cards, so it shouldn’t trigger the same concerns as the first two Democratic proposals. And parole could be revoked by a future Congress, CAP argued.
But it does give immigrants who are in the country illegally a firmer foothold. And under one section of immigration law, known as “advance parole,” those here under parole protections could even create a path to citizenship if they can find a valid reason to leave and reenter the country.
In reality, under the Biden administration’s deportation guidelines, few of these immigrants face a danger of being deported.
Even when interior administrative arrests of undocumented immigrants for deportation purposes were at their peak, under President Obama, it amounted to about 200,000 a year, or less than 2% of the total unauthorized population.
In 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting about half of the fiscal year, administrative arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement amounted to just 103,603 — or less than 1% of the unauthorized population. And more than 90% of those arrested had criminal records, meaning illegal immigrants who have avoided tangling with the law have an even lower chance of being caught and deported.
Immigration activists say avoiding deportation isn’t enough. They argue that the immigrants have earned a chance at citizenship by planting deep ties into their communities and holding jobs most Americans won’t do at the rates of pay offered.
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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