The Biden administration said Wednesday it will manage the surge of Venezuelans crossing the southern border with a new program, effective immediately, in which it will let 24,000 of them who have sponsors enter the United States — and send the rest back to Mexico.
The administration will also use the Trump-era rule known as Title 42, a Covid ban it has been trying to end in court, to send Venezuelans back across the border.
To be admitted under the new program, Venezuelans will have to apply for entry while outside the country and prove they have a U.S.-based sponsor, similar to the program the Biden administration set up for Ukrainians in the spring. The 24,000 accepted will have temporary humanitarian parole and authorization to work in the U.S.
“These actions make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and lawful entry is the only way,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Those who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally will be returned to Mexico and will be ineligible for this process in the future. Those who follow the lawful process will have the opportunity to travel safely to the United States and become eligible to work here.”
Immigration advocates say the new program will leave the majority of Venezuelans seeking asylum in the U.S. living in dangerous conditions in camps and shelters in northern Mexico. They say it will also greatly expand a Trump-era policy the Biden administration said in court it wanted to end.
Title 42, the public health authority used since the beginning of the Covid pandemic to push migrants back into Mexico without allowing them to claim asylum, will now be expanded to include Venezuelans under a new deal reached between the U.S. and Mexico. The result could mean thousands of Venezuelans living without the ability to work or find housing in dangerous cities like Juarez, Mexico.
Mexico had previously refused to accept Venezuelans who were expelled from the U.S., mainly because their home country does not accept them back. Venezuelans were instead screened and released inside the U.S. while waiting for their cases to be heard in immigration court.
The more than 100,000 Venezuelans already in the U.S. will be allowed to stay and continue to seek asylum.
Since Title 42 began in March 2020, the U.S. has expelled migrants without allowing them to claim asylum more than 2.3 million times, resulting in at least 9,886 incidents of kidnapping, torture, rape and other violent attacks, according to Human Rights First.
“This new humanitarian avenue is a welcome step towards providing protection and recognizing the crisis in Venezuela requires our attention and creative solutions,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “Far more troubling is the expansion of Title 42 expulsions that will now apply to Venezuelans attempting to assert their legal right to seek asylum.
An estimated 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid food insecurity and political instability, and the number of those crossing the U.S. border has increased fourfold over the past year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Venezuelans make up the majority of migrants being bused by Republican governors to Democratic-led cities. According to new data released by the United Nations on Wednesday, almost 75% of those who have fled do not have enough food, shelter, employment or medical care.