United States: Using COVID-19 powers, Biden begins expelling Venezuelan migrants to Colombia

US President Joe Biden. Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr

The Joe Biden administration has begun expelling Venezuelan migrants to Colombia, United States officials confirmed on January 31.

Associated Press reported that Homeland Security said it would expel Venezuelans to Colombia “on a regular basis” but would be limited to those who had previously resided in Colombia.

Despite promises by the Biden administration to respect the right to seek asylum, Washington has been systematically denying migrants that right by invoking Title 42, a provision provided by a 1944 law that allows the government to limit travel under the pretext of mitigating the spread of the communicable disease. Implemented in March 2020 by former President Trump during the COVID-19 pandemic, Biden has kept the policy in place.

Efforts to send away Venezuelans looking to cross its borders stands in contrast to US policy regarding Venezuela. In March 2021, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status, allowing eligible Venezuelan nationals already present in the US to remain in the country.

In December, US authorities reported it had encountered Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border nearly 25,000 times, making them the second largest group after Mexicans.

Venezuelan migration has been a constant feature in foreign policy debates and also a source of controversy. In June the US, together with the Canadian and Spanish governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, organised an “International Donor Conference” for Venezuelan migrants and refugees that Caracas called a “media farce” to promote a “highly profitable political propaganda” as part of a “strict US script” and “regime change agenda.”

Biden, who has maintained Donald Trump-era policies aimed at ousting the Nicolás Maduro government, has likewise been steadfast in its support for the “interim presidency” of Juan Guaidó. Despite support dwindling to a handful of countries, the recognition of Guaidó by the US and its allies has prevented the Maduro administration from accessing the country’s foreign assets.

US unilateral coercive measures have played a significant role in Venezuela’s years-long economic crisis, and is considered one of the major forces driving migration. According to UN figures, more than 5 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.

Human rights organisations have repeatedly called on the White House to cease its use of Title 42 to expel migrants. US government data indicates that from February to August 2021, the measure was used to expel over half of adult migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.

Amnesty International USA Americas Advocacy Director Amy Fischer said in a press release last year. “The continued weaponisation of the pandemic to expel people from our border will result in serious harm for the thousands who have been denied protection ... There is simply no way around it – Title 42 must end, and every day the Biden Administration fights to uphold it, they choose xenophobia and racism over protecting human rights.”

[Abridged from VenezuelaAnalysis.com.]