‘Going Back is Riskier:’ Venezuelan Migrants Face Long, Perilous Trek to US

Venezuelan migrants heading for the US face dangers and abuses, and even ending up in limbo at the Mexico-US border. Migrants and their guides tell their stories to Bloomberg Línea

Venezuelan migrants face difficulties in their passage through Guatemala on their way to Mexico and the US.
October 24, 2022 | 06:45 PM

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Guatemala City — When Venezuelan Wilfrander Marín decided to leave Chile with his one-year-old twins, his 7-year-old daughter, his wife and his mother-in-law, in pursuit of new opportunities in the United States, he did not imagine that after six days on the road and expenses of more than $8,000, new measures imposed by the US authorities would make them turn back.

On the way from the island of San Andrés, in Colombia, he was already hearing rumors of the plans by the administration of US President Joe Biden to discourage the illegal passage of Venezuelans across the Mexican border, but he decided to continue, boarding a boat that would take them on a 13-hour journey to Nicaragua.

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Turning back was not an option at that time, not even when they reached Honduras, before crossing into Guatemala and then Mexico, which they reached on October 10, two days before the formal announcement of the humanitarian program that the United States would set up for Venezuelans, and Wilfrander and his family continued their journey north through Mexican towns.

Wilfrander and his family were offered assistance by the Mexican immigration authorities, and they were transferred back to a town they had already passed through., and where other Venezuelans were staying.

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“The towns are collapsed, here [in Mexico] a more serious problem is going to arise. There are thousands of Venezuelan migrants in every small shelter they have set up,” the young Venezuelan told Bloomberg Línea.

Neither he nor his family feel able to turn back, however.

After the effort to get as far as they have, between buses, using ‘guides’ or escorts known as ‘coyotes’ in Mexico, whom migrants pay for passage across the border, and with little food, the family hold out hope of being reunited with other relatives in the United States, and that they can be given another option to cross.

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They and many other Venezuelan migrants remain in Mexico, tied to this possibility. Marín, for his part, has received help from organizations related to the Catholic Church, and which have helped him pay for hotel rooms of around $40 per night as his money supply dwindled.

He does not refer to the route he took as risky, but rather as a well thought-out decision to leave behind Chile, the first country he migrated to from Venezuela where, in spite of achieving permanent residency, the country did not live up to his expectations.

Migrants have to travel through half a dozen countries en route to the US.dfd

The guides along the route

Eduardo (not his real name) started working as a guide for migrants six months ago and since then he has received more than 10,000 Venezuelans at his operations center, as he prefers to call it, in Honduras, where he assists in expediting their migration permit process, getting them on the bus and routing them to Guatemala.

Of those thousands, he has seen hundreds of them cry in the last few days due to Washington’s rule barring migrants from entering the US in a bid to stem the spread of Covid-19.

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Eduardo does not consider himself a ‘coyote’, someone who charges migrants to escort them over the border, and says he prefers to be called a guide, because he only charges $15 for the permit for each of the citizens served.

He understands that this is an illegal payment, as the authorization is free, but that he, in support of Venezuelans, with the additional charge, manages to get it the paperwork completed more quickly.

“The situation is very difficult, but we know that everything has to change, because Mexico is going to collapse and migrants are going to get into the United States,” he explains, adding that he also helps Venezuelans with food and lodging, and puts them on buses to Guatemala, even when the possibility of them being returned remains great.

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He says that this route is less dangerous than the journey through the Darien jungle, testimonies of which are heartbreaking, and he has not stopped operating despite the new US regulations for immigrant for Venezuelans, and believes the current problem of the regulations can be reversed.

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The ordeal in Guatemala

Hundreds of Venezuelans who have illegally entered Guatemala in their bid to cross into Mexico and continue north to the US suffer anguish, hunger and cold. The transit of Venezuelan migrants alone has increased by 92% month-on-month.

However, the administration of US President Joe Biden recently announced a plan that will allow Venezuelans to apply to enter the US legally, for which they will have to apply remotely and then, if elected, fly into the US.

In recent weeks, Guatemalan authorities received 600 migrants during one weekend in the Central de Transferencias del Sur, (Centrasur), a migrant transit center in Guatemala City, comprising mostly Venezuelans, but also Cubans, Hondurans and Haitians.

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In Esquipulas, Chiquimula, there have been dozens of groups of between 10 and 15 people passing from Honduras into Guatemala, and the same thing occurs in Tecún Umán, San Marcos on the Guatemala-Mexico border.

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A growing exodus

Between January and October 2022, Guatemala has expelled more than 9,500 Venezuelans who were transiting toward the US after crossing all of Central America.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the passage of Venezuelans through the country has increased 92% in the last month, since 1,906 people were located and deported in the first 12 days of October, compared to 998 in the first 12 days of September.

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According to data from the Department of Homeland Security, more than 25,000 Venezuelans arrived in August at the Mexico-US border, and 33,000 arrived in September.

Venezuelans require a type-C visa to enter Guatemala, and ff they do not comply with the requirements they are deported.

More and more difficulties

In the so-called Migrants’ House in the Guatemalan town of Esquipulas, mothers and their children spend the night and spoke of how the journey from Venezuela has been for them.

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Two women told Bloomberg Línea how difficult their journey to Guatemala has been and affirmed that this country is the one in which they have encountered the most difficulties.

Another family of four from Venezuela, parents and children, said that they will continue their journey, despite the harassment they have suffered, because they stated that in their country it is no longer possible to live.

They added that some people helped them, mainly with food, but others have scorned them, in addition to having suffered abuse by police who have demanded between $40 and $50 from them.

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In addition, drivers charge migrants between $25 and $50 to transport them to a border crossing point.

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A second wave of migration

The phenomenon that represents the second Venezuelan migratory wave has been studied by the Centro de Investigaciones Populares, directed by Professor Mirla Perez.

“Venezuelans leave because of economic conditions, fundamentally. It has to do with income, lack of work, and hunger,” she says, adding that, with regards to the passage across Central America, “those who cross [the isthmus] see it as a transit to allow them to reach their dream destination, the United States, while some have opted to stay in Mexico, but the priority is still the United States.”

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Many have been detained before they have reached Mexico, and some return home voluntarily. dfd

According to studies carried out by the Centro de Investigaciones Populares (Center for Popular Research), based on testimonies collected, the number of people traveling through the Darien jungle totals around 1,000 per day, with groups of 20 people, including acquaintances and family members, and other groups of 300 people, led by ‘coyotes’.

“It is riskier to stay or return to Venezuela”, many of the migrants who take these routes say, according to the researcher.

“They are in permanent search for meaning, of how to help their relatives, that is what leads them to stay in Mexico, to claim the right to cross to the US. It has been a very hard measure for the Venezuelans, the humanitarian tragedy we are immersed in has not been taken into consideration, and the fact is that they have already been expelled from Venezuela leaves them with many limitations, and hunger,” Pérez says.

TheCoordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V), co-led by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimate that, in recent month, 120,000 Venezuelans have transited through Panama, 114,000 through the Dominican Republic and 29,000 through Costa Rica.

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