Mark Stevenson et al., Associated Press, October 5, 2023
The Biden administration will resume deporting Venezuelan migrants, the largest single group encountered at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, back to their economically troubled country as their arrivals continue to grow.
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, speaking in Mexico City Thursday, cited the new measure as one of the “strict consequences” the Biden administration is pairing with the expansion of legal pathways for asylum seekers.
“Our two countries are being challenged by an unprecedented level of migration throughout our hemisphere,” Mayorkas said, referring to Mexico.
The repatriation flights are expected to begin shortly, said two U.S. officials, though they did not provide specific details on when the flights would begin taking off. The officials were not authorized to disclose details of the government’s plan and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The resumption of deportation flights comes not long after the administration increased protected status for thousands of Venezuelans who had previously arrived to the U.S., they must have entered the country before July 31 of this year to be eligible for temporary protected status.
In making the recent expansion of protections official, President Joe Biden’s administration said just this week that it had determined that “extraordinary and temporary conditions continue to prevent Venezuelan nationals from returning in safety.”
Mayorkas on Thursday addressed the contrast with the announcement just days later of more deportations, saying “we have made a determination it is safe to return Venezuelan nationals who arrived in the United States subsequent to July 31 and do not have a legal basis to remain here.”
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service criticized the move to resume deportations noting the apparent contradiction with the expansion of temporary protected status.
“Returning thousands of Venezuelans to the same unimaginably dangerous conditions they just fled is a profoundly problematic policy for the world’s humanitarian leader to adopt,” the organization’s CEO Krish O’Mara Vignarajah said in a statement.
Administration officials would not discuss details about how frequently deportation flights would be going to Venezuela or describe how Venezuela agreed to accept back their citizens except to say that, like other countries around the world, the U.S. has long encouraged Venezuela to accept back its nationals. Cuba, another U.S. adversary, announced earlier this year that it would begin accepting Cuban deportees but there has only been one flight a month.
The U.S. had been returning some Venezuelans via commercial flights, but in relatively small numbers and through third countries.
In Venezuela, the government said it had reached an agreement with U.S. officials for a safe and orderly repatriation.
In August, the U.S. Border Patrol made 181,509 arrests at the Mexican border, up 37% from July but little changed from August 2022 and well below the more than 220,000 in December, according to figures released in September.
The U.S. has tried to get Mexico and countries farther south to do more. In April, the U.S., Panama and Colombia announced a campaign to slow migration through the treacherous Darien Gap dividing Colombia and Panama. But migration through the jungle has only accelerated and is expected to approach some 500,000 people this year – the vast majority from Venezuela.
Venezuelans were stopped 25,777 times the first 17 days of September, up 63% from the same period a month earlier, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures released by López Obrador. Those included some people admitted for scheduled asylum appointments, but the vast majority were illegal entries.