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Keys group offers workshop on new Biden immigration program, for prospective sponsors

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U.S. Coast Guard
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The U.S. Coast Guard said it stopped this migrant vessel about 15 miles south of Boot Key, Florida, on Jan. 6, 2023. The people were returned to Cuba on Jan. 10, 2023.

As people from Cuba, Haiti and other nations continue to face conditions that force them on dangerous journeys to our shores, a small Keys nonprofit is offering guidance to those to want to help them.

Through the new immigration parole program for migrants and asylum seekers, recently announced by President Biden, South Florida residents can act as sponsors — even if they are not related to those seeking to come to the U.S.

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The Keys Immigrant Coalition, a local nonprofit, is hosting a free presentation on the applications process and sponsor eligibility for anyone interested in getting involved. The workshop will present information in English, Spanish and Creole.

The U.S. sponsorship parole program that previously applied to Venezuelans has been expanded to Cubans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans. It is set to allow 30,000 migrants of those nations to qualify per month.

Amanda Velazquez, a Key West immigration attorney who is running the workshop, said any U.S. resident can become a sponsor and help foreign nationals from those nations obtain a parole document.

"As long as you have some legal status you could be a sponsor," Velazquez said.

"The parole document is going to give people a legal entry into the United States and that includes work authorization. It's going to be valid at least initially for two years," she explained.

Tuesday's presentation will be largely in English and Spanish but a Creole interpreter will be present, she said. Velazquez will lead the presentation and take questions at the end.

Migrants warned not to take to seas

Since Oct. 1, the Coast Guard said it has stopped 5,183 Cuban migrants and 1,199 Haitians making trips to South Florida on the water. In the previous 12 months, the agency caught 7,175 Haitian migrants and 6,182 Cubans.

Federal agencies continue to warn people that they will be sent back to their home countries if caught at-sea.

"Cubans and Haitians who take to the sea and land on US soil will be ineligible for the parole process and will be placed in removal proceedings," Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas tweeted Jan. 18.

They also take note of the dangers involved.

"USCG and partner agency air and sea crews patrol all day, everyday to ensure people return to their families alive." said Lt. Commander Tanner Stiehl, of Coast Guard District Seven, in a news release. "Use safe and legal means available to come to the United States."

The informational meeting will be held upstairs at the Bernstein Park Community Center, 6751 5th St. on Stock Island, on Jan. 24 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.