Acknowledging the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises in Venezuela, the Biden administration, and the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) recently announced new efforts to reduce the number of illegal immigrants crossing the southern border and to provide safe, legal pathways for entry into the United States. However, critics maintain that the announcement serves as a broad expansion of Title 42 and will hurt as many as it helps.
Increasing Numbers of Migrants from Venezuela
Economic deterioration in Venezuela has driven approximately 6.8 million from the country, marking the largest external displacement in recent history in Latin America. With hyperinflation and shortages of essential resources like water, fuel, and medicine, the economic crisis has caused significant social unrest. This crisis has led to a spike in illegal immigrants from Venezuela crossing the southern border of the United States. The United States announced that Venezuelan migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally could face rapid expulsion into northern Mexico, marking a change in foreign policy on the issue. However, the U.S. has now announced a new program for Venezuelans seeking to enter the United States lawfully.
New Program Provides Legal Pathway for Venezuelans
Building on the success of the Unite Ukraine program, DHS is seeking to offer a similar legal pathway to Venezuelans seeking to enter the United States. The Unite Ukraine program successfully decreased flows at the border by creating a legal process through which Ukrainians could seek parole into the United States following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As with the Unite Ukraine program, beneficiaries under the program for Venezuelans will be required to comply as follows:
- Have a supporter in the United States who will provide financial or other support to the beneficiary;
- Pass rigorous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; and
- Complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.
Additionally, individuals otherwise eligible for the program will be deemed ineligible if they:
- Have been ordered removed from the United States in the past five years;
- Have crossed the border without authorization between ports of entry after the date of announcement;
- Have irregularly entered Mexico or Panama after the date of announcement, or are a permanent resident or dual national of any country other than Venezuela, or currently hold refugee status in any country; or
- Have not completed vaccinations or other public health requirements.
The program will have a cap of 24,000 beneficiaries. According to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, “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. 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.”
Critics Say Program Favors Wealthy; Expands Trump Era Policy
While the announcement may be well-intentioned, it has already drawn criticism from many who claim the proposal favors the wealthy and well-connected. While the program seeks to deter Venezuelans from crossing the southern border, many have no alternative, as they lack the resources to board a flight to the United States.
Additionally, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) recently came out against the program, explaining that “while replicating the successful model of Uniting for Ukraine to Venezuelans is the right thing to do, and I commend the Biden Administration for creating a new legal pathway for Venezuelans forced to flee [President Nicolás] Maduro’s misery, I cannot support any program that creates additional requirements for Venezuelans and is coupled with an inexcusable expansion of Trump’s Title 42.” Menendez is Chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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