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United States reactivates mass deportations of Venezuelans to relieve pressure on the border with Mexico

Biden administration officials claim that the Maduro government has agreed to the measure, but do not explain how this was achieved

Migrantes Venezuela
Venezuelan migrants after crossing the Rio Grande in Texas, on September 26.BRIAN SNYDER (REUTERS)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

Joe Biden’s administration will reactivate the massive deportation of Venezuelans. The United States has been repatriating Venezuelan citizens for years through commercial flights. Now, immigration authorities will once again use their 12 planes to relieve pressure on the border in the middle of a migration crisis, U.S. government officials confirmed on Thursday. Said officials have not explained, however, how the regime of Nicolás Maduro, with which Washington has not formally had diplomatic relations since 2019, accepted the repatriation of thousands of people. The first of these flights will take off in the coming hours and will transport Venezuelans who arrived illegally in the country after July 31.

Despite the fact that there is no Venezuelan consular network in the United States, the U.S. government has been repatriating Venezuelans who fled the economic crisis in their country to cross the southern border of the United States for years. During the Donald Trump era, the immigration police authorities, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), returned Venezuelans through countries in the Caribbean such as Trinidad and Tobago. This Thursday, government officials have confirmed that agents will continue to use allies for these returns, such as Mexico by land, while also resuming ICE-operated flights.

Washington announces the measure two weeks after the administration announced that it was extending deportation protection status to nearly half a million Venezuelans. This measure benefits some 470,000 people from the South American country who arrived in the United States before July 31. The humanitarian program shields them from deportation and allows them to obtain a temporary work permit until immigration judges determine whether or not they can stay on U.S. soil, something that can take months or even years.

Officials have assured that citizens who can document that they have received threats or whose return would pose a danger to them will not be returned to Venezuela. Only those who do not have a legal basis to be in the country will be deported, the Washington sources said. In this way, Biden’s presidency underlines that it is willing to toughen the treatment of those who do not use the tools it has provided to make the journey north legally, such as the CBP One mobile app. The cases of some 73,000 Venezuelans are being analyzed by immigration authorities. Of these, 66,000 are already in the country. Among other requirements, migrants must have a passport from their country, which costs about $200, ten times more than the minimum wage. The Observatory of Social Research stated last year that only 1% of the people who have left Venezuela have this document.

The border with Mexico is experiencing a tense moment during the Biden era. Preliminary figures from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) indicate that there were more than two million apprehensions at the border during fiscal year 2023, which runs from October 1, 2002, to last September. One of the nationalities most frequently encountered by immigration agents at border crossings was Venezuelan. The economic and political crisis in the South American country has caused the displacement of seven million people. Many have set their sights on reaching U.S. territory.

CBP estimates that some 50,000 Venezuelans crossed the southern border of the United States in September, according to CBS, which obtained the preliminary numbers. The figures are to be confirmed in the coming days, when authorities close the 2023 fiscal year. The number can give for the moment an idea of the flow that has landed on the country’s doorstep in recent months. Venezuelans account for a quarter of the total arrests made by immigration authorities last month. In September 2022 34,000 people crossed.

The number of Venezuelan arrivals in September is equal to the total number of Venezuelans detained at the border in fiscal year 2021. In the first eight months of that period, only 176 citizens from the South American country were deported. With Biden’s arrival at the White House in January 2021, the number grew rapidly until this group of immigrants surpassed, in September 2022, the sum of people leaving Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

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