A child with a blood clot in his brain. A 7-year-old girl with a skin condition that threatened her organs. A couple who faced homophobic threats at home. Each time, US border officials ignored or denied their requests for humanitarian parole without explanation, forcing immigrants to wait in squalid and dangerous conditions in Mexico.
For months, lawyers in Nogales, Arizona, located along the US-Mexico border, have been waiting to hear the fate of their asylum-seeking clients who are particularly vulnerable to violence or in need of medical attention. they can’t get to Mexico.
Until mid-December, the vast majority of requests for humanitarian aid had still not received a response. Officially known as humanitarian parole, it allows immigrants who are not otherwise eligible to enter the United States to enter the country for urgent humanitarian reasons or of significant public interest. It is also one of the few ways asylum seekers can currently seek protection in the United States rather than abroad. That’s why advocates say timely decisions and specific information about why someone is being turned away are crucial.
Each passing day means asylum seekers continue to wait in border towns where they are often the target of extortion, kidnapping or assault, said Chelsea Sachau, a lawyer with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. , which provides free legal aid to detained immigrants facing deportation in Arizona and seeking asylum in Nogales, Mexico.
It wasn’t until she told Customs and Border Protection that she was going to ask members of Congress to intervene that the agency granted exemptions to four families, allowing them entry. in the United States without humanitarian parole.
“He shouldn’t take a call to a congressman for a child with blood clots in the brain or [a] The entangled spinal cord should be considered an urgent humanitarian situation and therefore allowed entry into the United States,” Sachau said.
Part of the problem is that the law that includes humanitarian parole is written in a way that gives a lot of discretion to CBP officials who often don’t include a reason why they’re denying the request. It is therefore difficult for lawyers to know what criteria their clients must meet. There are also no guidelines on who is eligible for humanitarian parole.
Understanding why an immigrant is denied humanitarian parole is especially crucial now that it’s one of the few ways for asylum seekers to enter the United States, Sachau said. Most immigrants and asylum seekers at the border are currently barred from entering the country under a Trump-era policy that the Biden administration has continued to use. Citing an obscure public health law known as Title 42 to contain the coronavirus, the United States is immediately deporting immigrants at the border, barring them from accessing the asylum system.
There were once Title 42 exemptions for vulnerable immigrants under a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, as well as a separate process by which organizations chosen by the Biden administration identified people facing hardship. increased risks in Mexico, but they no longer exist. So now, humanitarian parole is one of the few lifelines available to asylum seekers.
Sachau said she expected to have more difficulty getting asylum seekers exempt from Title 42 after settlement talks ended and aid groups stopped working with the government. However, she didn’t expect them all to be ignored or denied for months until the lawyers alerted border officials that their next appeal would be to members of Congress.
“We’re really only submitting the most at-risk, most vulnerable cases whose lives are at risk if they don’t receive security in the United States,” Sachau said.
In a December 9, 2021 letter to CBP and Border Patrol, Osborn Maledon, an Arizona-based law firm, called for transparency in the humanitarian parole process and said that while officials have the power discretion to approve or deny such requests, their decisions are not exempt from judicial review.
Each denial of humanitarian parole must include specific reasons in writing that would allow a court to determine whether the decision was legitimate, the letter states. Lawyers argued that a failure to respond to a request did not meet the legal standards that would permit such a review, and that cursory denials that the decision was made “on a case-by-case basis” did not show that officers borders had actually used their discretionary power.
The letter also called on U.S. immigration officials to adjudicate requests for humanitarian parole in a timely manner and to publish procedures on how to apply for it, in part because most immigrants don’t have lawyers. willing to defend their cause.
In response to a message from Sachau asking why an application was denied, a CBP field office program manager in Tucson said there was no guidance on what criteria immigrants must meet for humanitarian parole, as they are examined on a case-by-case basis.
“I would recommend, although it’s not mandatory, that the more documentation the better. This helps to better understand the situation,” the email adds.
CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Of the 24 humanitarian parole applications lawyers have submitted to Nogales since August, five have been denied and four granted in the past two weeks, Sachau said.
“Just because it’s no longer 0% doesn’t mean anything we’ve laid out in the formal notice isn’t true, and we still have responses pending,” Sachau said.
A family waiting to hear if the United States will allow them to enter the country to seek protection has an 11-year-old daughter who is having a seizure.