WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Matias Delacroix

13 Oct 2022 | WOLA Statement

U.S. and Mexico’s Disappointing Approach to Protection Seeking Venezuelans Puts Thousands at Risk

On October 12, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that “effective immediately”, Venezuelans who cross the border irregularly will be returned to Mexico. Parallel to these additional Title 42 expulsions, DHS launched a new humanitarian parole program for a limited number of Venezuelans with someone to support them in the U.S.

The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is alarmed by the Biden administration’s response to the record numbers of Venezuelan migrants and refugees arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, which seeks to bring the numbers down at all costs rather than adopting measures to reopen the border to access asylum or other forms of protection. The Mexican government’s acceptance of Venezuelans under Title 42 expulsions once again demonstrates its willingness to do the U.S. bidding on migration enforcement, even at the expense of the safety and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers.

Title 42 is a measure put in place by the Trump administration –allegedly to limit the spread of COVID-19– which the Biden administration sought to suspend in May but which remains in place due to a court order, that allows U.S. authorities to quickly expel migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras back to Mexico. Often, these expulsions deny migrants the right to ask for asylum in the United States. The Biden administration push to include Venezuelan citizens under Title 42 is due to a sharp recent rise in arrivals of Venezuelan citizens at the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. border authorities had encountered 153,905 Venezuelans during the first 11 months of the government’s 2022 fiscal year (October 2021 to August 2022), and DHS’s press release revealed that 33,000 more Venezuelans arrived at the border in September. Citizens of Venezuela were the second most-encountered nationality at the border in August and September after Mexicans.

Along with the Title 42 expansion, DHS announced a humanitarian parole program for up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants and refugees. As 33,000 Venezuelans arrived at the border in September, this program would benefit a number equal to about three weeks of the current flow.  Apart from the limited number, the new program will exclude any Venezuelan who crossed irregularly through Panama and/or Mexico after October 12, 2022, meaning the thousands who  are currently somewhere on this treacherous journey will likely not qualify unless they are already in Mexico with some status. While more information on the program will soon be available on this USCIS website, Venezuelans with sponsors who meet different criteria may apply from other countries and, if approved, receive humanitarian parole, with eligibility to apply for work authorization and asylum, and the ability to fly to an airport in the U.S. interior.

The Mexican government has framed the announcement as a joint program and that the Biden administration is responding to “Mexico’s request” for additional labor visas- an increase in 65,000 new H2-B temporary work visas, including 20,000 for Central Americans and Haitians. Regardless of the dynamics, it seems clear that Mexico has once again accepted a U.S. request to receive thousands of additional non-Mexican migrants and asylum seekers in its border cities.  During the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022 (October 2021 to August 2022), citizens of  Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were expelled to Mexico under Title 42 more than 960,000 times. This high number of migrants and asylum seekers has overwhelmed Mexican shelters and service providers and exposed this population to grave risks and obstacles to accessing basic services.

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, over 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers expelled under Title 42 or waiting at the border for a chance to enter the U.S. have been victims of crime in Mexico, including kidnapping, rape, and assault. An increase in the number of migrants subject to this program will only add to the number of vulnerable people who are preyed upon by Mexican criminal organizations, at times working in collusion with Mexican officials.

The Mexican government has failed to safeguard the well being and protection of migrants and asylum seekers at the border. At the same time, while in his memo to terminate the Migrant Protection Protocols (“Remain in Mexico”), which forced asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration hearings, DHS Secretary Mayorkas affirmed that “Significant evidence indicates that individuals awaiting their court hearings in Mexico under MPP were subject to extreme violence and insecurity at the hands of transnational criminal organizations that profited by exploiting migrants’ vulnerabilities,” DHS appears to have no qualms about adding to the number of migrants who will be exposed to grave dangers upon expulsion to Mexico.

7.1 million Venezuelan people have left their country in recent years, meaning nearly a quarter of the total population have fled due the human rights crisis and humanitarian emergency. While around 80 percent of Venezuelans had settled elsewhere in Latin American the Caribbean, lack of economic opportunities exacerbated by COVID-19 and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country has resulted in many more Venezuelans on the move hoping to enter the United States.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has announced almost $817 million in assistance to the region to respond to the commitments made in the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, signed by 21 countries in the context of the June 2022 Summit of the Americas.  A significant part of these funds are to support Venezuelan refugees and migrants and the countries receiving them. Despite this important support, and U.S. efforts to work with countries in the region “to create a migration agenda that is common for the Americas for our times,” as Secretary of State Blinken affirmed at the migration ministerial held in Lima on October 6, the announcement made by DHS on October 12, in coordination with the Mexican government, falls far short of promoting a regional framework on protection. Instead, the Biden administration continues to rely on “enforcement first” policies that curtail access to protection at the border, expose migrants and asylum seekers to grave dangers and abuse, and outsource U.S. obligations to Mexico.