US and Mexico reach agreement on plans for Venezuelan migrants

The Department of Homeland Security announced measures on Wednesday aimed at reducing the number of Venezuelan migrants arriving at the southern border, a record influx that has fueled partisan divisions over US immigration policies.

Biden officials announced the plans after reaching a deal with Mexico that will allow US authorities to return some Venezuelan migrants across the border, while expanding opportunities for others to seek legal entry through an overseas application process.

The arrangement is modeled after a Biden administration program that has enabled nearly 70,000 Ukrainians enter the United States within the last six months with a legal status known as humanitarian parole. Applicants must have a person or organization willing to sponsor them financially, and then wait for clearance to fly to the United States, rather than arriving at the southern border.

Mexico, in an effort to discourage Venezuelans from heading directly for the border, will agree to accept the return of Venezuelan migrants under Title 42, a pandemic measure ostensibly designed to protect public health.

“As of today, Venezuelans who enter the United States between ports of entry, without authorization, will be returned to Mexico,” DHS said in a statement. “At the same time, the United States and Mexico are stepping up coordinated law enforcement operations to target human trafficking organizations and bring them to justice.”

Migrants who enter Panama or Mexico illegally will not be eligible for the US humanitarian program, US officials have said. Applicants must pass health exams and security checks, but those who are approved through the online process will enjoy a fast-track to US work authorization.

DHS officials said the measures “will help ease pressure on cities and states” that have taken in the migrants. With record numbers of Venezuelan migrants entering the United States illegally through the southern border in recent months, administration officials have scrambled to avert a humanitarian and logistical emergency.

Republican governors in Arizona and Texas have sent thousands of commuters – mostly Venezuelans – to northern US cities in recent months.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said his city’s shelter system had been overwhelmed by the influx, declaring a crisis and a state of emergency that strain finances.

US officials said they would allow 24,000 Venezuelans to travel to the United States under the terms of the deal. But that number is dwarfed by the roughly 160,000 people who have been taken into U.S. custody along the southern border over the past year, raising doubts about the program’s ability to redirect Venezuelans to official channels.

Authorities said they would allow Venezuelans already in Mexico to apply for entry to the United States under the humanitarian program. But new arrivals to the country will be detained by Mexican immigration authorities and possibly deported, officials said.

The expulsion of Venezuelans from the United States and Mexico has been difficult because the Venezuelan government has often refused to allow deportation flights to the country. Mexico has reluctantly accepted U.S. applications on Title 42 since implementing the policy in March 2020. But previously it did not accept Venezuelans largely because of deportation issues.

Mexican officials say the program will only work if the United States agrees to accept significant numbers of Venezuelans under the visa program, so migrants believe they have a viable alternative to transiting through America central.

“We’re going to look at the program to make sure the numbers are good enough,” said a Mexican official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deal.

The Department of Homeland Security announced an increase in the allocation of work visas on Wednesday, adding 65,000 H2-B visas for temporary non-farm workers. Of these, 20,000 visas will be reserved for people from Central America and Haiti, according to the department.

Administration officials familiar with the plan said it was contingent on Mexico agreeing to take back more migrants deported by U.S. authorities using Title 42.

Mexico has limited the number of migrants it receives, citing its reception capacity constraints, and it has allowed the United States to return relatively few Venezuelans.

About 1,000 Venezuelans have crossed the southern US border every day in recent weeks, according to the latest available Customs and Border Protection data.

An official familiar with the program, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss it, expressed skepticism that the plan would succeed if Mexico accepted the return of just a few hundred migrants per day at the border.

US authorities have virtually no ability to send Venezuelans back to their home countries on deportation flights because the United States does not recognize Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro as the country’s legitimate president.

Venezuelans who are not “deported” to Mexico under Title 42 would continue to be permitted to enter the United States. If the new legal program generates backlogs, some applicants may not want to wait and attempt to enter illegally.

Nearly 7 million Venezuelans have left their homeland since 2013, according to latest UN report estimates. Many settled in Colombia, Peru and other South American countries, but others chose to make the journey north to the United States in search of better security and opportunity. economic.

Venezuelan migrants are a new border challenge for Biden

The Biden administration tried to end the Trump-era Title 42 public health policy, but was blocked in federal court in May. Critics said the Mexico deal appeared to be an indication of the administration’s reliance on Title 42.

“The contours of the humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans were not presented to us,” said Thomas Cartwright, an immigrant rights advocate with the group Witness at the Border, “but we are extremely troubled by the apparent acceptance, codification and expansion of the use of Title 42, an irrelevant health ordinance, as a cornerstone of border policy, which removes the legal right to asylum.

Sieff reported from Mexico City.

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