The Biden administration announced Thursday that it will start deporting people directly to Venezuela, a country where chaotic economic and political conditions have prompted about 8 million people to flee.
Administration officials said Venezuelan authorities agreed to receive repatriations from the United States, but declined to provide details on any discussions with President Nicolás Maduro’s regime.
The move is all but certain to raise concerns and condemnation from human rights advocates over the dangers Venezuelan deportees will face in the increasingly repressive country.
The Biden administration has previously relied on third parties for deportations to Venezuela, for instance deporting Venezuelans to a willing partner nation such as the Dominican Republic, which would then conduct its own deportations to Venezuela.
And the new announcement comes weeks after the Biden administration redesignated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program specifically designed to avoid deporting foreign nationals into dangerous situations.
The TPS designation allowed more than 400,000 Venezuelans who were in the United States as of July to stay in the country and work legally, an official recognition that conditions in Venezuela are too dangerous for safe returns.
“We granted Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan nationals who are in the U.S. as of July 31, a few weeks ago. And we, as a matter of policy and as a matter of historical practice, continue to remove individuals to countries that have TPS designations after the date of the TPS designation,” a senior administration official said.
“So this is not something new or different from the long standing practice of this administration, and really all previous administrations.”
The renewed deportations respond to the growing number of Venezuelans willing to take the dangerous trek on foot through Panama’s Darién Gap, a stretch of jungle that was considered impassable before trails developed as a result of migration over the past decade.
Venezuelans then have to traverse Central America and Mexico, a journey made more dangerous by corrupt officials and organized criminals who at once provide services to and prey on vulnerable migrants.
The administration’s announcement came in the wake of a visit to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, though officials said Mexico was not party to the renewed deportations.
“There’s no direct correlation between the timing of this announcement and the secretary’s visit,” an administration official SAID.
“We did have very productive conversations with the government of Mexico on the topic of migration. They’re an incredibly strong, important partner to us, but this is an announcement that we are making on our own today.”
But officials also said Mexico will continue to receive some Venezuelans encountered at the border and quickly expelled from the United States.
“We do intend to continue to return of some Venezuelans who are encountered at the border and ordered removed or who voluntarily withdraw to Mexico even as we repatriate Venezuelans to Venezuela,” an administration official SAID.
The focus on Venezuela comes as that country’s nationals continue to put pressure both on Customs and Border Protection at ports of entry and on the Border Patrol in other parts of the border.
The number of Venezuelans encountered at the border has risen at an alarming rate over the past few months.
According to data compiled by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), CBP reported more than 30,000 monthly encounters with Venezuelans in April, May and August of this year, and according to a report by CBS News, more than 50,000 Venezuelans showed up in September.
The WOLA numbers also show that in August, only 30 percent of Venezuelans encountered at the border showed up at ports of entry, despite the country’s nationals being eligible for the Biden administration’s expanded pathways to legal entry.
In August, 22,090 Venezuelans were apprehended by the Border Patrol after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border at non-designated locations, while 9,373 were encountered at ports of entry by CBP.
That shows the limitations of the Biden administration’s efforts to expand legal pathways to entry without legislative action on immigration reform, amid a decade-old pattern of migration from beyond Mexico and Central America.
The administration’s actions are creating whiplash among immigration advocates, as the carrot-and-stick approach has revealed increasingly painful sticks.
Deportations to Venezuela are unlikely to be high-volume – a similar deal with Cuba has yielded one deportation flight per month over the last six months.
But conditions in Venezuela are more dire, and comparisons will inevitably be drawn to the Biden administration’s extensive Haitian deportation program, which has returned more than 27,000 people to the collapsing country.
Yet administration officials said they’re setting guardrails to prevent the deportation of Venezuelans with legitimate claims to asylum, regardless of their mode of entry into the United States.
“Individuals will only be returned to Venezuela if they’re found not to have a legal basis to remain in the United States. So all such individuals will have an opportunity to raise protection concerns, and will not be returned to Venezuela if they’re determined to be at risk of persecution or torture upon return,” said an official.
Updated at 5:12 p.m. ET
Source: The Hill