Hispanic refugees coming to US find online sponsors

A nonprofit launched a matching program to help people from Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti.
Venezuelan migrants wait for a bus to take them north at the Northern Bus Station in Mexico City in 2022.
Venezuelan migrants wait for a bus to take them north at the Northern Bus Station in Mexico City in 2022. [ EDUARDO VERDUGO | AP ]
Published March 9|Updated March 9

TAMPA — Tens of thousands of people forced from their homes in the Caribbean and Latin America due to poverty and violence can now find homes in the United States by directly connecting with potential sponsors.

The online service called Welcome Connect matches American sponsors with potential refugees from select countries. To ensure both sponsors and beneficiaries link up, people can sign up on the 15th of each month.

The program was launched by, a nonprofit that began in August 2021 to assist Afghans. Last July, it started its matching platform for Ukrainians after their country was invaded by Russia.

In January, the Biden administration announced that U.S. would accept 30,000 people a month from Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Haiti under a parole designation as long as they have sponsors, travel by air and pass background checks.

As of mid-February, over 36,000 people have arrived in the U.S. following the new parole process, including 7,800 Cubans, 5,100 Haitians, 1,600 Nicaraguans, and 22,000 Venezuelans, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Sponsors provide newcomers with financial support and housing for up to a two-year period of parole. They must ensure immigrants can find basic services and must help refugees learn English and find a job.

Potential applicants who can’t find an individual sponsor in U.S. could fall victim to a black market. Dozens of groups on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp offer opportunities to find financial sponsors through “notarios publicos,” who ask for money even though the process is free. In the U.S., notaries are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice.

A parole program advertisement on Facebook.
A parole program advertisement on Facebook. [ Facebook ]
A Facebook page filled with posts offering and seeking financial supporters.
A Facebook page filled with posts offering and seeking financial supporters. [ Facebook ]

Community leaders, lawyers and nonprofits are working to help people avoid scammers and the risk of becoming a victim.

“I would say that’s precisely why it’s so important for there to be legitimate organizations walking people through how the process works and helping with the process,” said Cecilia Muñoz, co-founder of

Danielle Hernandez, an immigration lawyer and president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce, said the parole program is an important step for many families.

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Hernandez hosts a weekly radio show called “Immigration Update” on La Mega 101.1 FM. She discusses current events related to immigration and their effects on the Hispanic community. She said people have to be cautious if someone wants to charge to sponsor them.

“While it is not illegal to sponsor an unknown person, there are risks,” said Hernandez. “The intending immigrant should be cautious of falling into a scenario where they could be forced to work to pay off the debt when they arrive.”

Venezuelan Hernan Lugo-Galicia, a political refugee in Tampa and editor of Codigo Latino, a blog that covers news and immigration politics, said scammers take advantage of people’s despair and anguish. And while the new humanitarian parole program will assist many families fleeing violence and oppression, he also said that thousands of people are already waiting for their request for political asylum.

“It would be great if the government could improve this process.”