Research/Study Research/Study

Secret flights that don't exist: What right-wing media get wrong about the humanitarian parole program

Figures have falsely accused Biden of “treason” and alleged a secretive plot to cause “a revolution by illegal immigration”

Last year the Biden administration expanded a humanitarian parole program allowing up to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to stay in the U.S. for a two-year period with the potential for extension pending sponsorship and background checks.

The program — which requires the recipients to “arrange and fund” their own travel to the U.S. — is based on parole powers used by every president except Donald Trump since 1952, and President Joe Biden's administration was transparent about its expansion, which was widely reported.

But right-wing media have erupted over a recent report about the program from xenophobic hate group Center for Immigration Studies, claiming that the president has “secretly flown in 320,000 migrants” and accusing him of treason.

  • The Biden administration’s expanded humanitarian parole program was publicly announced and widely reported, and it’s rooted in powers used by almost every president since 1952

    • In January 2023, the Biden administration announced an expanded humanitarian parole program allowing “up to 30,000 individuals per month” from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to stay in the U.S. for a two-year period with the potential for extension pending sponsorship and background checks. As noted by Popular Information, the administration was transparent in this effort, as “the announcement received widespread press coverage in major media outlets.” To be accepted, applicants to the program must have an “eligible sponsor and pass vetting and background checks" and are required to “arrange and fund their own travel” to the U.S. [Popular Information, 3/6/24; Boundless, accessed 3/7/24]
    • The anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group, published a report characterizing the program as “legally dubious” and saying it involves  “secretive flights that last year alone ferried hundreds of thousands of inadmissible aliens” into the U.S. The report, based on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, was immediately picked up by members of right-wing media, who attacked Customs and Border Protection for withholding the names of airports receiving migrants through the programs. The agency stated in response to the FOIA request that this information would “reveal operational vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors altering their patterns of conduct … undermining CBP’s law enforcement efforts to secure the United States borders.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed 3/6/24; Center for Immigration Studies, 3/4/24]
    • Humanitarian parole powers were granted to the president in 1952 and have been used “126 times by every president since then except for Trump.” The former president has falsely claimed that the Biden administration is flying in migrants from “parts unknown” despite CBP publicly disclosing the number of new arrivals from each nation in the program. [The Associated Press, 3/3/24, 3/6/24]
    • Right-wing media have a history of distorting facts about migrant resettlement programs, including spreading conspiracy theories about “ghost flights” and attacking the humanitarian charities and nongovernmental organizations that welcome new arrivals. [Media Matters, 10/27/21, 2/29/24; NPR, 6/20/22]
  • Right-wing media are misrepresenting the program, with some accusing the Biden administration of committing “treason” or facilitating an “invasion”

    • Fox News host Pete Hegseth claimed the expanded humanitarian parole program is a “secret program that’s flying illegal immigrants into our country where they just skip the border.” Hegseth continued, “We hop the border for them. … What are the implications of this? How much do they vet them in the home country?” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 3/5/24]
    • Fox host Mark Levin called the program a “revolution by illegal immigration” on his radio show. “This is revolution by illegal immigration,” Levin argued, adding, “I especially hope people who are Democrats, who do not believe in this stuff, that you understand the party has left you. It's the party of AOC. It's the party of Hakeem Jeffries. It's the party of the ‘border to the sea’ crowd. It's the party of the professorial Marxists.” [Westwood One, The Mark Levin Show, 3/5/24]
    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt falsely claimed the Biden administration “admitted to secretly flying 320,000 illegal immigrants” to the U.S., saying it’s trying to “destroy this country with illegal immigration.” Schmitt downplayed the program’s sponsorship and background check requirements, claiming these precautions mean “an intern checked the box in two seconds for every single one of them.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 3/5/24
    • Conservative youth organization Turning Point USA posted that it is the job of the federal government to “protect the people of the United States, not to facilitate the invasion” in reference to “flying 320k migrants into the United States.” [Twitter/X, 3/5/24]
    • Conservative tabloid Daily Mail cited the Center for Immigration Studies report to claim that “Biden’s administration has admitted transporting migrants on secret flights” to the U.S. Multiple figures, including right-wing commentator Ian Miles Cheong and QAnon influencer Dustin Nemos, shared the Daily Mail’s reporting. [Daily Mail, 3/4/24; Twitter/X, 3/4/24, Telegram, 3/6/24; Reuters, 1/25/21]
    • TheBlaze’s Candace Hathaway reported that “the Biden administration secretly flew 320,000 ‘inadmissible’ illegal migrants into the United States.” [TheBlaze, 3/5/24]
    • Right-wing outlet The Politics Brief claimed the Biden administration “smuggled over 320,000 illegal migrants” into the country through a “secret flying program.” [The Politics Brief, 3/5/24]
    • The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft accused the “Biden regime” of “treason.” Hoft also wrote that Biden is “aiding illegal aliens as they invade our country through the southern border and destroying America’s security and sovereign borders.” [The Gateway Pundit, 3/5/24]
    • Actor Kevin Sorbo asked why people aren’t “getting angry about this criminal act by our government,” saying Biden “secretly flew  320,000 ‘asylum seekers’” into the U.S. [Twitter/X, 3/6/24]
    • The Washington Examiner claimed, “Biden secretly dumped 320,000 ‘inadmissible’ illegal immigrants into US cities.” The article also referred to humanitarian parole as an “unusual program” that was being “kept from the public.” [Washington Examiner, 3/4/24]
    • Real America’s Voice host Ben Bergquam argued that the program was “more treason from Joe Biden, and the Democrats!” Bergquam claimed that humanitarian parole happens so “you don’t see [migrants] at commercial airports” and called Democrats “traitors” who are “literally flying illegals into our country!” [Twitter/X, 3/5/24]
    • In a post sharing a screenshot describing the FOIA lawsuit, QAnon influencer Jordan Sather wrote, “'tis the season to conduct some treason.” Sather also said that the Biden administration is a “threat to national security.” [Telegram, 3/5/24; BuzzFeed News, 1/23/20]
    • On far-right message board The Donald, users insinuated that Biden is “just getting his new army into position” and called for people to form militias “for the mass deportations to come.” [, 3/5/24, 3/5/24]