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South Florida's Nicaraguan community may not be as ready as others for paroled migrants

Nicaragua protest
Alfredo Zuniga
Nicaraguan riot police set up a shield wall as Nicaraguans take part in a mass protest against the government of President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua, on Aug. 3, 2019. The nation has been in crisis since April 2018, when protests erupted demanding Ortega's exit from office and early elections, with demonstrators accusing him of consolidating power and ruling in an authoritarian manner. Nicaraguans are using the new parole program to escape the dictatorship's repression.

As Nicaragua’s dictatorship worsens, people there are especially eager to take advantage of President Biden’s new migrant parole program and come to the U.S.

The only problem: the Nicaraguan community here may not be as equipped as it hoped to take them in.

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Nicaraguans are among the four national groups from crisis-torn countries eligible for the humanitarian parole. It lets them avoid the dangerous treks to the overwhelmed U.S. southern border and come here for two years — and work — if they have a sponsor who can support them.

But finding those sponsors is turning out to be a challenge for South Florida's Nicaraguan community, which isn’t as large, organized or financially strong as the others.

“The biggest issue is just the capacity to actually receive these individuals and provide for them," says Nicaraguan-American immigration attorney and Doral City Councilwoman Maureen Porras.

"The existing infrastructure is just not there for the Nicaraguan community.”

She points out that Cubans, Venezuelans and Haitians — the other three groups eligible for the parole — have been coming to South Florida continuously for the past half century. As a result, new migrants from their countries are likely to have family and friends here waiting for them.

Porras says that’s not the case for Nicaraguans — because far fewer of them have been coming here following the wave that arrived back in the 1980s. The new wave began pouring in only five years ago, when Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega began brutally cracking down on nationwide anti-government protests.

“Think about it, there’s a whole 40 years in between them," Porras notes. "That gap has really made it challenging for the ones that are coming now to really find family members or anyone that’s willing to take them in.”

Porras, who also handles immigration legal services here for the nonprofit Church World Service, says Nicaraguans need more humanitarian and nonprofit groups to step in and help them with migrant housing and support.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.