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US Government to Resume Deportations to Venezuela

Migrants heading north line up to take a boat in Bajo Chiquito, Darien province, Panama, after walking across the Darien Gap from Colombia, Oct. 5, 2023.
Migrants heading north line up to take a boat in Bajo Chiquito, Darien province, Panama, after walking across the Darien Gap from Colombia, Oct. 5, 2023.

The Biden administration announced Thursday it will resume the deportation of migrants back to Venezuela in hopes of decreasing the numbers of Venezuelans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

On a background call with reporters — a method often used by U.S. authorities to share information with reporters without being identified — Biden officials said Venezuelan nationals who cross into the U.S. unlawfully will still be processed. But if it is found they do not have a legal basis to remain in the country, they will be "swiftly removed" back to Venezuela.

"This comes following a decision from the authorities of Venezuela to accept back their nationals," a U.S. official said. "This also reflects a long-standing approach by the Biden-Harris administration that balances historic expansion of access - orderly, lawful pathways - with harsh consequences for those who seek to enter our border irregularly."

This is the latest effort from the administration to stem the flood of Venezuelans making the dangerous journey through the Darien Gap, Central America and Mexico to the southern U.S. border.

"In fact, we have already identified individuals in our custody today who will be removed promptly in the coming days," a U.S. Department of Homeland Security official said in the call. "All of these individuals have gone through our U.S. immigration system and have not been able to prove that they have a legal basis to remain in the United States."

According to human rights groups, the current exodus of Venezuelans is the largest migration crisis in recent Latin American history.

The United Nations reports that a staggering 7 million Venezuelans have left their country because of political instability, and they travel through countries including Peru and Columbia to get to the United States.

Venezuela also faces U.S. sanctions because of what the United States describes as repressive policies and human rights abuses.

"More than 7.7 million people have left Venezuela in search of protection and a better life," the U.N. said in August. "The majority — more than 6.5 million people — have been hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries."

First flight expected soon

The U.S. has not carried out regular deportations to Venezuela for years.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil confirmed Thursday on X — the social media platform formerly known as Twitter — that the country had signed an agreement with the U.S. to receive its nationals back.

"An agreement on immigration has been approved that allows for the orderly, safe and legal repatriation of Venezuelan citizens in the United States through the 'Return to the Homeland' program," Gil said in Spanish.

Biden officials did not provide details of the conversation with the Venezuelan government but said they continuously engage with countries around the world "to urge them to receive their nationals that have no lawful basis to remain in the United States."

"We intend on operating the first repatriation flight very soon, in the next few days, and we will have more details about those operations as we stand them up," said another U.S. official.

In September, CBS News reported that approximately 50,000 Venezuelans had crossed the U.S. southern border that month without authorization, an all-time record. VOA was not able to confirm that figure as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said enforcement data for September was still not available.

Policy aligns with legal pathways

As U.S. officials explained the new policy to reporters during the call, they said it went hand in hand with the legal pathways created in 2023 for Venezuelans hoping to come to the U.S.

The humanitarian parole program that began on January 5 for migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela also was designed to decrease unauthorized migration, including entries into the United States between legal ports of entry.

The program allows up to 30,000 migrants per month from each country to enter the U.S. and live for up to two years. Once their applications are approved, they are allowed to proceed with travel arrangements.

"We have permitted more than 66,000 Venezuelans to enter the country through the CHNV process and more than 66,000 Venezuelans through the CBP One [mobile app] process at ports of entry," a DHS official said, using the abbreviation for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans

But to get through the program, as VOA reported in August, migrants have to travel to a processing center in Colombia to begin the application.

Voice of America visited the first Movilidad Segura office — which means "Safe Mobility" in English — in Medellin, Colombia, a satellite location of the U.N. Refugee Agency where migrants who applied online are initially screened remotely.

A limited number are then referred for in-person appointments to verify their personal information and documents. U.S. immigration officers are not involved in the process.

But would-be migrants were learning that the centers were still not offering faster options for people who wished to flee urgently.

Biden officials said the U.S. continues to address the migrant crisis while expanding legal pathways so people are not compelled to travel to the U.S.-Mexico border.

On September 20, the administration also announced the redesignation and expansion of Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who are already in the United States.

Under TPS, Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. on or before July 31, 2023, are eligible for temporary legal status – allowing them to work legally in the U.S. for up to 18 months.