Bloomberg — US authorities are seeing signs of success in a new program designed to deter Venezuelans from crossing the southern border -- and they remain open to expanding it to migrants fleeing other Latin American countries.
Officials have observed a dramatic drop-off in Venezuelan encounters at the southern border since last week, according to preliminary data, after the expansion of asylum restrictions and the creation of a new legal pathway for Venezuelan nationals took effect.
Border agents logged 155 encounters with Venezuelans on Wednesday, compared with some 1,200 average daily encounters earlier this month, US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg News.
“This policy is very new and so to even look at what’s happened in a week, we’re not saying, ‘OK, well, success, mission accomplished,’” Magnus told reporters and editors in an interview at Bloomberg’s Washington bureau. “I think it’s a starting point.”
The Biden administration announced the policy change last week, launching a program allowing up to 24,000 approved Venezuelans with US-based sponsors to live and work in the US temporarily, while expanding a public health restriction known as Title 42 to expel to Mexico Venezuelans who attempt to cross the southern border.
Magnus said that Venezuelan migrants may be seeing posts on social media channels from others who have tried to cross and were turned away, which could be discouraging attempts to enter the US from Mexico.
“Word travels almost shockingly fast about things, and word goes back to say, ‘Don’t make this dangerous journey,’” Magnus said.
President Joe Biden is under pressure to address the issue from both advocates and Republicans, who criticized his immigration policies as ineffective at deterring illegal migration. The GOP has sought to make immigration a liability for Democrats in the November midterms.
Some immigrant-rights advocates have expressed cautious optimism about the creation of the legal pathway for Venezuelans, called humanitarian parole, which mirrors a similar program for Ukrainians earlier this year.
Draft versions of the plan included migrants from Nicaragua and Cuba as well, who also are attempting to cross into the US in larger-than-usual numbers. But they were not included in the final program.
Magnus said the approach may eventually extend to other nationalities, but the administration is focused on ensuring the Venezuelan program goes smoothly first.
“Nobody is ruling that out. We understand the need,” he said. “But I think the desire is, ‘Let’s be thoughtful about how we do this, how well it works, take it one step at a time and then look at moving further.’”
The Biden administration has faced blow-back from immigrant-rights advocates for expanding the application of Title 42 to Venezuelans, nearly 7 million of whom have fled poverty, violence and political repression, sparking one of the world’s biggest refugee crises. Advocates say that applying the pandemic-era measure to Venezuelans unjustly deprives them of the chance to seek asylum in the US.
Southern border crossings by Venezuelans, along with Cubans and Nicaraguans, have dramatically increased over the past year as encounters with Mexicans and Central Americans have fallen, contributing to record number of encounters along the border.
US authorities had encountered more than 15,000 Venezuelans at the border on average per month in the last 12 months, up from 127 a month in the five years before the coronavirus pandemic.
The US generally doesn’t deport Venezuelans to their home country due to a lack of diplomatic relations with Caracas, but a new agreement with Mexico allows CBP to expel Venezuelans there. Some migrants and non-governmental organizations have complained about a lack of capacity and poor conditions in shelters on the Mexican side of the border.
“I understand their criticisms,” said Magnus. “This is an ongoing process with Mexico, a give and take.”
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