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Waiting for America

Illustration by Camila Kerwin

Waiting for America

WLRN News evaluates a key plank of the Biden administration's immigration agenda — one year later.

As soon as President Biden took office in January 2021, his administration was overwhelmed by a crisis it admittedly had not done enough to prepare for: unprecedented numbers of migrants coming over the southern border.

But the people pouring in now were not from the usual source countries, like Honduras. Most were fleeing Venezuela — home to the worst humanitarian disaster in modern South American history and to one the continent’s most brutal authoritarian regimes. These Venezuelans were making an especially dangerous trek: enroute to the U.S., most passed through the often deadly Darién Gap jungle between Colombia and Panama.

After almost two years of hand-wringing — and watching the immigration issue drag down Biden’s approval ratings — the administration came up with a way to alleviate the border crush: a humanitarian parole program, modeled on a similar project for Ukrainian refugees, to let desperate would-be migrants like Venezuelans come to temporarily live and work in the U.S. for two years.

After months of reporting, WLRN has found that the program has been hampered by bureaucratic problems that undermine its success: Demand is higher than the Biden administration had anticipated. It's difficult if not impossible for some migrants to find sponsors and get passports. Work permits are taking months to secure. “The program is the best hope we’ve had in years," one Venezuelan told WLRN. "But the waiting hurts."

Political analysts argue the program better work — and it better survive a federal court challenge — or it could prove to be a "disaster" for President Biden's border policy. In our series Waiting for America, we spend time with the people caught in the middle of it all.

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