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As Texas tries to end federal 'parole' program for some immigrants, a Nicaraguan waits to see if he can stay

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Posted at 7:54 AM, Nov 20, 2023

By Uriel J. García, The Texas Tribune

Eric Sype was a 21-year-old Seattle University student when he arrived in a coastal city in Nicaragua in 2014 as part of an intership to help set up a bike rental company that would help fund educational scholarships for the city’s students.

He lived with a multigenerational family that frequently hosted visiting Americans to help make ends meet. Sype quickly bonded with the family, especially Oldrys, the family’s 25-year-old son.

When he went home after four months in Nicaragua, Sype stayed in touch with the family, and flew back to Nicaragua frequently to share milestones like the birth of Oldrys’ children.

But last year, when Oldrys couldn’t find work to suport his wife and two children, he turned to Sype for advice. Sype consoled his friend, frustrated that he couldn’t help.

So when the Biden administration announced a new program in January that allowed up to 30,000 people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to legally migrate to the U.S. each month — as long as they have a financial sponsor in the U.S. — Sype immediately jumped to the opportunity to help his friend.

“It was never really a question as to whether it was something I was interested in doing,” said Sype, now 30 and working as an organizer for an international digital rights nonprofit in Oakland.

Oldrys and his family had been so supportive and welcoming during his time in Nicaragua, he said, and sponsoring his friend “felt as though it was an opportunity to reciprocate that love and support that he and his family had given me, but also to do so in a time of need of my friend.”

Oldrys is now 34 and living with Sype’s family in Cashmere, Washington, two hours east of Seattle, where he works in the family’s apple orchard.

But the program that has provided a rare legal pathway to migrate to the U.S. is under legal attack by Texas. Soon after the Biden administration announced the program, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, leading a coalition of 19 other Republican-led states, filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Texas in Victoria asking Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump administration appointee, to halt the program.

Texas argues in its lawsuit that the program harms the state because immigrants approved under the program qualify for state services such as health care and public education. It’s one of over two dozen lawsuits that Texas has filed against the Biden administration since January 2021 seeking to reverse the Biden administration's immigration policy.

As of October more than 269,000 people from the four eligible countries have been accepted into the program. It’s unclear what would happen to them if Tipton were to rule in favor of Texas.

Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has discretion to temporarily allow immigrants into the country even if they lack legal standing under U.S. immigration law. The practice is known as parole, but it doesn’t provide a pathway to permanently stay in the country and can be revoked at any time by immigration officials.

Previous administrations have used parole to help certain immigrants; most recently the Biden administration offered it to people fleeing Ukraine after Russia invaded that country. Thousands of Afghan citizens have received parole since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021.

With a historically high number of people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — many of them crossing illegally — the Biden administration created the parole program to provide a safe and legal way for them to enter the U.S.

In order to be approved for the latest parole program, people need to apply from their home countries, pass a background check and prove they have a financial supporter in the U.S. If they’re approved, they can stay in the country for up to two years and get a work permit. Once in the country, they would be able to request asylum if they choose to.

Oldrys, who asked to be identified only by his first name so his family in Nicaragua can’t be identified, said he plans to stay for the two years allowed under the program, then return home. He’s grateful his friend was there to lend a hand.

“I had mentioned to him some of the financial problems we were going through, he gave me some advice but I didn’t ask him to bring me here and he didn’t mention it at first,” Oldrys said. “But I know Eric is the type of person who likes to help.”

Sype testified at trial over parole program

The Texas case challenging the parole program went to a two-day trial in late August. Tipton, who has ruled against the Biden administration on a previous unrelated immigration case, has yet to make a ruling.

If the Biden administration allows “these new aliens into the United States in violation of federal law, then the harm will only grow over time,” Paxton’s office argued in the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 24.

In court filings, lawyers representing the Biden administration said the program encourages would-be migrants to use a lawful way to enter the U.S. rather than crossing the border illegally. They also argued that Congress has given the executive branch the authority to implement such a program.

“These processes thus fall squarely within the historical use of the parole authority to advance foreign affairs goals related to particular countries,” a lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department wrote in a recentcourt filing.

Monika Langarica, senior staff attorney with the Center for Immigration Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law, said in a court filing that previous U.S. administrations have implemented more than 100 parole programs over the past seven decades.

Langarica, part of a legal team that represents Sype and seven U.S. citizens who have sponsored migrants and support the program, said Texas’ lawsuit is yet another example of the state “seeking to hold immigration policy hostage for the entire country.”

The team of lawyers and the seven U.S. citizens joined the lawsuit to defend the program alongside the federal government. Langarica noted that Texas didn’t challenge the parole program for Ukrainians.

“If the court were order to rule in Texas’ favor, this would be the first time a parole program like this one has been struck down in the United States.”

Sype was the lone witness to testify during the trial in Victoria, giving testimony about the benefits of the program and the contributions Oldrys has made to his community while also helping his own family in Nicaragua.

“I think in a country where we don't agree on a lot, I think almost everybody, for very different reasons, agrees that our immigration system is deeply broken,” Sype said during a phone interview with The Texas Tribune. “I don't see this program necessarily as the answer to all of our problems, but I think that this program is really a bright spot in an extremely broken immigration system that is really based in relationships and it's bringing people together and is creating benefits for the communities that folks are able to come into.”

A tearful reunion

When Sype went to Nicaragua as part of an internship with a nongovernmental organization focused on youth development, it was the first time he had lived outside of the U.S.

Oldrys’ family had signed up to host Americans traveling through their town and Oldrys said Sype was the fourth American his family had hosted. Oldrys said Sype lived in the family compound with his parents and siblings. Sype fit right in with the family, Oldrys said.

Oldrys said Sype is an empathetic person who understood the sacrifices Nicaraguans have to make to help their families, such as Oldrys having to drop out of college to work in construction.

“He is quite affectionate, sentimental,” Oldrys said. “That helped link him to our family.”

Sype said he was touched by the family’s warmth and kindness. After he left Nicaragua, he stayed in touch, contacting Oldrys and his family at least once a month.

Sype flew back to Nicaragua both times Oldrys’ wife gave birth to their children, who are now 7 and 2. In 2021, when Oldrys’ sister got married, Sype returned again to attend the wedding. Over the past decade, Sype said he’s gone to Nicaragua seven times, including one Christmas, to stay with Oldrys’ family.

Meanwhile, Oldrys was struggling to support his two children and wife. Construction jobs were inconsistent and paid poorly, and the country was also going through political instability that hurt the quality of life for the Central American country’s 6.3 million residents.

On top of that, the coastal city where Oldrys and his family live was struck by two Category 4 hurricanes, Eta and Iota, in 2020.

Sype said another friend had told him about the Biden administration’s new parole program and he agreed it would be worth applying for.

Four months after Sype began the application process, he drove to the Seattle airport to pick up Oldrys. When Oldrys got to the baggage claim area, he saw his friend holding a sign welcoming him.

The two embraced, breaking down in tears.

“It was a moment of intense relief for me to finally see that he had made it through the entire process, and then I think once it sunk in after a few seconds, we both kind of started to break down and got emotional,” Sype said.

It’s the first time Oldrys has been away from his home country and his family. He said it was difficult to say goodbye to his children. His youngest daughter is too little understand exactly what is going on, but his 7-year-old son had questions.

“He is really mature, but he understood why I’m doing this,” Oldrys said, choking up in tears and stepping away from the camera during a video interview.

Sype said it’s hard to see Oldrys struggle being separated from his family.

“It’s always been very clear to me that this is a huge sacrifice to him to be away from his family,” he said. “So it’s difficult for me to see him suffer in that way, but it also cements my desire to be a supportive friend.”

Oldrys’ plan is to work hard and save up enough money to build a home for him and his wife within the two years. If he can do it in less time, “even better,” he said.

Oldrys said his family didn’t want him to leave his wife and children behind but understood that it was ultimately a sacrifice worth doing in order to provide for them. Oldrys said his family is comforted by the fact that he is being hosted by a family they can trust.

Sype, he said, “is the son who does not have our family’s blood, but he is the most loved, he is everyone's favorite,” Oldrys said.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/11/20/texas-lawsuit-parole-immigrants-nicaragua-cuba-haiti-venezuela/.

"As Texas tries to end federal “parole” program for some immigrants, a Nicaraguan waits to see if he can stay" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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