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PolitiFact FL: Migrants in parole program do not receive free flights to the US

A man poses for a portrait on a balcony.
John Locher
Marcelo Conde poses for a portrait at his apartment Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024, in Las Vegas. Conde, a political journalist from Nicaragua, fled Nicaragua last year after he received death threats because he wasn't in favor of leftist President Daniel Ortega.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

Recent social media posts claimed that migrants can use an app to get free flights to the U.S.

"Let’s see what is actually doing better under Biden?" the caption on a March 7 Instagram post says. The caption then lists several things, including, "300,000 illegal immigrants were able to use a simple app to get a free flight to our country along with the millions that were allowed to enter at our southern border!"

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Entrepreneur Elon Musk and former President Donald Trump amplified similar claims in a social media post on X and a speech, respectively.

The claims appear to be based on a March 4 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for reduced immigration and opposes a Biden administration parole program for migrants from certain countries.

The report says that the parole flights are creating security vulnerabilities at airports. But it doesn’t say migrants are receiving "free flights."

The report’s author, Todd Bensman, said in a published follow-up statement that "re-reportings incorrectly said the government itself was ‘flying’ immigrants in, as though taxpayers were picking up the tab. As far as I know, that’s not true, nor have I ever reported anything other than that the program requires the migrants to pick up the tab."

Bensman’s report says 320,000 people arrived in the U.S. through December 2023 through the parole program, which allows certain immigrants from four countries to live and work in the U.S. for up to two years. Official Customs and Border Protection data says that 327,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans arrived in the U.S. from January 2023 through December 2023.

The Instagram post’s claim is wrong, though, saying that they used a "simple app to get a free flight" to the U.S.

Applicants complete a process that requires a security and background check, a U.S. sponsor and does not involve an app. People granted parole status through this program have temporary legal status in the U.S. They also do not receive free flights to the country; rather, they buy their own plane tickets, Nicole Hallet, a University of Chicago Law School professor, told PolitiFact.

And an app called CBP One is not used to apply for or receive parole. Program participants use the app to access information about their cases, get travel authorization and to complete a travel pre-screening to verify their identities.

People in the parole program came in the U.S. legally

In January 2023, the U.S. began accepting 30,000 people each month, collectively, from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela, through a parole program. It lets people legally enter, live and work in the U.S. for two years. To qualify, migrants need a U.S. sponsor.

Although people paroled in are authorized to be in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security has the discretion to terminate their parole if they violate U.S. laws. People who overstay a parole period also can be deported.

Through Jan. 31, 2024, more than 357,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans arrived lawfully and were granted parole. Haiti had the most program participants, with 138,000 people arriving from that country, followed by 86,000 Venezuelans, 74,000 Cubans and 58,000 Nicaraguans. The U.S. grants parole based on "significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons."

Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, posted March 11 on X that people who enter the U.S. through the parole program "are not ‘illegal aliens.’ They enter legally and have official permission to be here." He was responding to a March 11 X post from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who called the program’s participants "illegal aliens."

Texas Republican officials sued the Biden administration claiming that the federal initiative is illegal. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit without ruling.

Our ruling

An Instagram post said that "300,000 illegal immigrants were able to use a simple app to get a free flight to our country."

A Biden administration parole program allowed 327,000 migrants to legally enter the U.S. from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela from January 2023 through December 2023. They came in legally and are temporarily authorized to be in the country.

The app they use to track their case is not used to apply for or receive parole. Applying for the program requires a U.S. sponsor and background and security checks.

Once approved for the parole program, participants must pay for their own flights to the U.S.

We rate this claim False.

PolitiFact Staff Writer Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this report.

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