The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday confirmed CNN’s report that it will launch a new program targeting Venezuelan migrants seeking to come to the United States and return those who cross the border illegally to Mexico.
CNN first reported that the proposal was under consideration on Tuesday.
The program for Venezuelans is similar to the approach the administration took toward Ukrainians earlier this year. They will need to apply, have a US sponsor, and be screened and verified, as well as fully vaccinated. Up to 24,000 Venezuelans will be accepted, the DHS said.
The show comes amid an influx of immigrants of those nationalities at the US-Mexico border, straining federal resources and border cities. In August, 55,333 migrants found at the border were from Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua, a 175% increase from last August, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“These actions make it clear that there is a legal and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and legal entry is the only way,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
The plan is intended to serve as an expanded and more orderly process. If the immigrants meet the criteria and are approved, then they would be paroled into the US at an airport with the ability to work legally as well.
Venezuelans who are not eligible include those who have been ordered removed from the US in the last five years, crossed the border illegally after Wednesday’s announcement, or entered Panama or Mexico irregularly after the date of the announcement. Thousands of Venezuelan migrants have been passing through Panama on their way to the United States.
Venezuelan migrants will also now be sent back to Mexico under a Trump-era pandemic emergency restriction if they cross the US-Mexico border, marking a significant departure from before.
Administration officials have been dealing with mass migration across the Western Hemisphere for months, emphasizing the need for all countries to help ease the flow and create better conditions at home. The issue was again the subject of discussion last week at a meeting of foreign ministers in Lima, Peru.
The change in demographics, with many of the immigrants now from Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, is exceptionally difficult for the US given, in part, frosty relations with those nations that largely prevent the administration from removing people from those countries.
The plan is an acknowledgment of the reality that Venezuelans are largely released into the US as they pass through immigration procedures and, in some cases, they have relatives or friends with whom they are going to meet in the country.
The Biden administration took an approach similar to the one being considered with Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country, allowing them entry into the United States and the ability to work for a temporary period. That program was established to prevent Ukrainians from reaching the US-Mexico border and going through an orderly process.
Poor economic conditions, food shortages and limited access to health care are increasingly pushing Venezuelans to leave, posing an urgent and serious challenge to the administration as thousands arrive at the United States’ southern border. USA
More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid deteriorating conditions, equaling Ukraine in number of displaced persons and surpassing Syria, according to the United Nations. More than 1,000 Venezuelans are apprehended daily along the US-Mexico border, according to a Homeland Security official.
Venezuelans detained at the US-Mexico border are typically paroled into the US and released under an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that monitors people using GPS-enabled ankle monitors, phones or an app. while they go through their immigration procedures.
The jump in the movement of Venezuelans in the hemisphere emerged during a White House meeting last month with 19 countries from the Western Hemisphere, a senior administration official previously told CNN.
“We found that a lack of coordination leads to more migrants being exploited,” the senior administration official said. “There is consensus that there is value in us working more closely and trying to sync up our policies.”
This story has been updated with additional information on Wednesday.