HOUSTON (AP) — A trial over a lawsuit seeking to end a key element of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy that allows a limited number of people from four countries in the Americas to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds was set to conclude Friday.
However, U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton in Victoria, Texas, was not expected to rule immediately on the legality of the humanitarian parole program once closing arguments wrap up. A decision could come months down the road.
At stake is whether the federal government can continue a program that is allowing up to 30,000 people into the U.S. each month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Migrants paroled under the program have sponsors in the country who vouch for them financially.
The program has been successful at reducing migration and a humanitarian crisis on the southwest border and has also allowed federal agents to focus on border security, Brian Ward, a prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department, said during closing arguments Thursday.
But lawyers for Texas and 20 other Republican-leaning states that are suing to stop the program say the Biden administration has created its own immigration program that operates outside the law. The large numbers of migrants being paroled in the U.S. shows officials are granting parole en masse and not on a case-by-case basis as required by law, they contend.
The administration “created a shadow immigration system,” Gene Hamilton said Thursday. He’s an attorney with America First Legal Foundation, a conservative legal nonprofit led by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller that’s working with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to represent the states.
During testimony Thursday, an American who is sponsoring one of the migrants — a 34-year-old friend from Nicaragua named Oldrys — praised the programs economic benefits and credited it with letting him reciprocate kindness to someone who has suffered financial hardship in his home country.
“We really see this as an opportunity to welcome Oldrys into our family …. in a time of need for him,” Eric Sype said.
Oldrys, whose last name has not been released, now lives in Sype’s childhood home in Washington state, where Sype’s cousin has offered him a job on the family’s farm.
Sype was the only witness during the trial as attorneys for Texas and the U.S. Justice Department, which is representing the federal government in the lawsuit, didn’t offer testimony and rested their cases based on evidence previously submitted.
Lawyers for Texas argued that the program is forcing the state to spend millions of dollars on health care and public education costs associated with the paroled migrants. Immigrant rights groups representing Sype and six other sponsors called those claims inaccurate.
As of the end of July, more than 72,000 Haitians, 63,000 Venezuelans, 41,000 Cubans and 34,000 Nicaraguans had been vetted and authorized to come to the U.S. through the program.
The lawsuit has not objected to the use of humanitarian parole for tens of thousands of Ukrainians who came after Russia’s invasion.
The parole program was started for Venezuelans in fall 2022 and then expanded in January. People taking part must apply online, arrive at an airport and have a sponsor. If approved, they can stay for two years and get a work permit.
Other programs the administration has implemented to reduce illegal immigration have also faced legal challenges.
Tipton, a Donald Trump appointee, has previously ruled against the Biden administration on who to prioritize for deportation.
The trial is being livestreamed from Victoria to a federal courtroom in Houston.
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Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press