DHS Secretary Mayorkas has turned “humanitarian and public interest parole” into a mass-migration tool that is overwhelming America’s lawful immigration system.
As CIS scholars have thoroughly documented, the Mayorkas parolee-migration programs for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Ukrainians, Venezuelans, and other foreign nationals are making a shambles of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). For example, DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, already overwhelmed in carrying out its normal statutory duties of processing legitimate citizenship and residency cases, is being pulled further underwater in trying to manage hundreds of thousands of parolees and parole applicants.
The DHS secretary believes that the INA admits too few migrants and requires procedures that are too slow and cumbersome. Mayorkas’s parolees are admitted in a process that runs separately from, and parallel to, normal immigrant visa processing. Through his radical abuse of parole powers, the DHS secretary not only wants to overturn INA-established family-reunification visa caps, but also demonstrate the “brokenness” of the entire immigrant visa process. He is implicitly questioning the very concept of an immigrant visa.
After all, Mayorkas can argue, if DHS can fast track hundreds of thousands of de facto parolee-migrants, using online applications, without any of them undergoing any conventional immigrant visa screening, what purpose does the INA’s “antiquated” visa regime system serve?
Starting with the 1924 Immigration Act, Congress systematically tasked the Department of State’s consular corps, today managed by the Consular Affairs Bureau, to screen immigrant visa applicants while they were still physically overseas; visas were issued only when would-be migrants proved they met the legal requirements, such as documented means of support and health and police records. It was a common-sense policy that put an end to the antiquated Ellis-Island immigration model that basically only addressed these issues when the migrant was already on our doorstep.
The 1924 law addressed past failures of the U.S. government to adequately screen migrants in their home countries. The major security incident (a 9/11 precursor) that predated the 1924 law was a series of violent political attacks and terrorist bombings, many carried out by recent immigrants, that history books today call the 1919-20 “Red Scare” or “Palmer Raids”. Today, some critics argue the Department of Justice overreacted in conducting the raids and deportations, but the 1924 immigrant screening measures that Congress and President Calvin Coolidge put in place were a wise security response to the immigration chaos associated with that era. Those security lessons remain just as valid today in our era of Biden’s immigration chaos.
There were also health concerns. The 1924 law came on the heels of the 1918-19 “Spanish flu”, the worldwide pandemic that killed some 50 million people, some 675,000 of them in the U.S. It was a more deadly health threat that the recent Covid pandemic. Considering those and other health concerns, Congress rightly judged that all U.S.-bound migrants needed to undergo rigorous medical examinations and vaccinations before setting foot on American soil.
For now, this basic immigrant visa screening system, put in place a century ago, remains in place. U.S. consular officers live and work in migrant-sending countries, developing crucial knowledge of relevant security issues that screening tools such as watchlisting, as important as it is, will never detect. Consular officers often interview visa applicants in their local language, a valuable security tool that can help to ferret out nefarious intent and fraud, such as the ubiquitous imposter schemes, most commonly “changing” spouses and children applying with the principal applicant. Consular officers monitor the authenticity of medical examinations, vaccinations, and other health records. They can also undertake, when necessary, background field investigations on applicants and examine local work and educational claims.
It is an admittedly imperfect system that does not detect all fraud, but the procedure is based in the rule of law, unlike the superficial Mayorkas approach. Some border security advocates have rightly complained that State Department consular officers, taking full advantage of their forward locations in embassies and consulates, should do even more vigorous vetting of immigrant visa applicants. This is always a valid concern, particularly when it concerns certain high-risk and corrupt countries. After the 9/11 catastrophe, State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has regularly put more resources into anti-fraud efforts, but those efforts must be matched by leadership in the department that makes such work a high priority.
After three years in office, Mayorkas is establishing a fast-track immigrant processing model that is breaking with all of these security measures. DHS officials in Washington who vet Mayorkas’s parolees have little to no operational information on corrupt government practices that falsify identity documents, whitewash criminal records, and cover up related unlawful activities. Sketchy and inadmissible parole applicants can easily fix up their bona fides to “qualify” for Mayorkas’s programs.
The DHS secretary speciously argues that modern technology has rendered the old immigrant-visa procedures antiquated. Using online applications and electronic screening is the only basis for Mayorkas to claim, as he does, that his parolee-immigrants are “rigorously vetted”. This is a bogus and misleading claim.
The security concept of Mayorkas’s model is essentially no more than remotely matching an applicant’s identity information to U.S. government watchlist databases and accepting the applicant’s good faith assurances on other related vetting matters, such as health, vaccinations, and criminal background. That is not enough. The INA security tools worth preserving, and strengthening, were created before modern watchlisting; they are built on human contact, as described above, that entails in-depth personal interviews and in-person assessment of the bona fides of applicants in their countries — before certifying them with a visa.
To vet his parolee-immigrants, Mayorkas and his team have essentially borrowed the screening tools of the current Visa Waiver Program. VWP was designed by Congress to admit short-term foreign travelers to enter the U.S. without obtaining visitor visas. VWP offers this travel privilege only to partner countries whose nationals have a proven record of not overstaying their non-immigrant visas or engaging in criminal activities. VWP travelers have no requirement to interview in U.S. embassies or consulates; they process their applications and obtain their travel permission all online.
VWP applicants fill out DHS’s online travel application, called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which electronically vets their personal data against U.S. government databases. If approved, VWP travelers are further screened with airline passenger information (almost all fly on commercial airlines). When VWP travelers arrive at a U.S. port of entry, they provide additional biometrics — finger prints and another photo — which contribute to further vetting.
As CIS scholars have discussed, the critical weakness in Mayorkas’s “rigorous” vetting plan is that he is “partnering” with unreliable governments. U.S. authorities certainly collect, worldwide, derogatory identity information on foreigners, particularly on known terrorists and terrorist suspects, but those identity databases capture only a small fraction of nefarious actors who are ineligible to be U.S. migrants.
Some of the best information is shared with Washington directly from friendly partner governments. This is particularly true when that identity information is on their own citizens with criminal or terrorism-related pasts. In fact, friendly governments can only join VWP by demonstrating that they are worthy and serious about sharing identity information on their criminals and terrorists with the U.S. government.
In Mayorkas’s parolee-migration programs, the “partner” countries are, in some cases, enemy regimes (Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) or in other cases dysfunctional states (Haiti). In any event, these governments have neither the goodwill nor the capacity to share sensitive information with DHS on their domestic criminals or terrorists. For many reasons, these governments could never qualify for VWP, and they certainly should not be sending Mayorkas’s “vetted” parolees to come to America as de facto immigrants.
In fact, with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the governments in those hostile countries now have a golden opportunity to offload as many unwanted criminals, anti-U.S. troublemakers, and deep-cover spies as they can. The U.S. government will have almost none of these excludable foreign suspects on its watchlists. Past experience with Cuba should send up red flares. Of some 125,000 Cubans that Castro permitted to sail to the U.S. in the infamous 1980 Mariel boatlift, some 20,000 turned out to have serious mental illnesses or criminal issues that would have made them ineligible for an immigrant visa.
Another vulnerability concerns health. Mayorkas’s parolee-migrants are not required to have medical examinations, but are only expected to produce vaccination records. Relying on parolee-migrants to self-attest to the credibility of their medical paperwork is a highly suspect procedure. Cutting out U.S. consular officers from monitoring the local health-screening process means there is no serious vigilance to ensure that local country vaccination and medical records are authentic. It is almost certain that some parolee-sending countries, such as Venezuela, have thriving black markets in “creating” needed medical documentation.
Mayorkas has invented a Frankenstein immigration monster that portends a security nightmare for the U.S. If Biden is re-elected and Congress remains unable or unwilling to protect its constitutional and statutory prerogatives, expect Mayorkas to expand his invented programs to bring in even more parolee-migrants.
He will likely argue that some kind of parolee-migration model, replacing our current immigrant visa system, should be the future for opening up the United States to even more immigration. He will point to the “success” of his current model that empowers migrants to self-select, receive fast online processing in Washington within weeks, and avoid bureaucratic U.S. embassies and consulates overseas.
Another imaginable Mayorkas scheme would be to extend parole to the four million petitioned family-reunification relatives, all waiting for validity dates to become current under the “broken” immigration system. The Mayorkas vision is all about serving migrants and cares little about U.S. security, public health, fairness, or the rule of law.
In response, Congress must defend and insist on the immigrant visa security measures in the INA. Even those who are not border hawks or immigration restrictionists should be concerned that Mayorkas is dangerously opening up the country to unneeded risks.