The Biden administration will allow some migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who are already in Mexico to apply to enter the United States as refugees, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.
The move will add to a range of new legal pathways opened up by Democratic President Joe Biden to help reduce illegal border crossings that have set records in recent years.
The Biden programs include an app that allows migrants to register for an appointment to approach the U.S.-Mexico border and an initiative that lets certain migrants enter the U.S. by air if they have sponsors.
“We encourage migrants to use these legal pathways instead of putting their lives in the hands of dangerous smugglers and traffickers,” Sullivan said in a statement.
Reuters reported earlier this month that the United States and Mexico had been discussing a new U.S. refugee program for people from those four countries who were already in Mexico.
U.S. refugees have a path to citizenship and are provided government benefits not available to other migrants. Unlike asylum seekers, they are approved before entering the country.
The White House and other agencies did not respond to a request for additional details on the refugee initiative.
Mexico’s incoming foreign minister Alicia Barcena said this week talks were underway related to processing migrants from the four countries, all which have had increases in the number of people trying to enter the United States in recent years.
Barcena said Mexico was looking to establish an “international space” in southern Mexico where people from those countries could seek humanitarian protection and employment assistance.
Biden’s new legal programs have been coupled with a restrictive new asylum regulation that took effect in mid-May.
The number of people caught crossing illegally dropped dramatically after the implementation of the regulation, which limits who is eligible for U.S. asylum. But tens of thousands of migrants remain in Mexico in limbo.
A federal judge on Tuesday ruled the new asylum restrictions violate existing law, but postponed the effective date of the decision for 14 days as the Biden administration appeals, leaving the regulation in place for now.