Venezuelan migrants expelled after Biden expands Title 42 expulsions

Migrants suchiate by Jose Luis Granados Ceja
Title 42 effectively denies migrants the legal right to seek asylum in the United States. Photo: Jose Luis Granados Ceja

The United States expelled hundreds of Venezuelans to Mexico over October 15–16 as a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy took effect, throwing thousands of migrants into disarray.

The new policy, announced on October 12, allows US authorities to expel Venezuelan migrants under Title 42 authority, a [Donald] Trump-era policy implemented at the beginning of the pandemic that allows the US to keep migrants from seeking asylum at the border in the name of limiting the spread of COVID-19.

The immediate rollout of the measures caused havoc at the US-Mexico border, with migrants already in US territory expelled into Mexico with little more than a sheet of paper indicating the details of the new policy. A group of Venezuelan migrants in Matamoros opted to stage a protest at the international bridge, leading to the temporary shutdown of the crossing. The new policy has reportedly led to the break up of families.

The policy has already had a ripple effect in the region, with Mexico giving the expelled migrants 15 days to leave the country, while Guatemala has taken steps to stop the movement of Venezuelan migrants and pledged to deport them to neighbouring Honduras.

The policy includes a commitment to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelans who meet stringent requirements, including proof of sponsorship, and entry through US airports. A Mexican official who was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly told AP that Mexico made its participation in the policy contingent on the US admitting one Venezuelan on humanitarian grounds for each Venezuelan it expels to Mexico.

Migrant rights defenders have long called for the Joe Biden government to end its use of Title 42, which effectively denies migrants the legal right to seek asylum in the US. The policy was meant to be lifted in April after the CDC said it would end the “public health” measure, although AP reported that some White House officials were relieved after a court order kept Title 42 in place following a challenge from Republican state officials.

Biden has faced increasing criticism from Republican governors in so-called “border states” demanding the federal government take even more restrictive measures against migrants and asylum-seekers.

Early in his term Biden positioned himself as a champion of migrant rights, pledging to overhaul the US immigration and asylum system, as well as committing to overturn some of his predecessor’s most abusive practices. Biden has nonetheless left most of Trump’s border policies in place, even expanding Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as “Remain in Mexico”, to include all asylum-seekers from the Western hemisphere.

Meanwhile, White House Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told journalists in September that migrants expelled at the border were “fleeing communism”, pointing to migrants who are arriving from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The US administration claims people from these three countries accounted for more than one of three migrants stopped at the border in August and have described the arrival of Venezuelans as a “surge”.

The number of Venezuelans making the dangerous land trip to the US has increased dramatically in recent months, with a reported 150,000 encounters with Border Patrol in the past 11 months. However, migrants from the Caribbean nation made up only 7% of total crossings in the same period.

The Biden administration has maintained hostile policies toward Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Biden opted to exclude Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua from the Summit of the Americas in June, leading to a boycott of the event by some leaders. The US Democratic president has likewise largely maintained the punishing sanctions regime on Venezuela, despite some signs of rapprochement.

Washington has, likewise, expanded sanctions against the Ortega government in Nicaragua and enforced the blockade of Cuba, despite serving as vice-president to Barack Obama, who presided over warming relations between the US and Cuba.

Venezuela has experienced an exodus of people as a result of the multifactor crisis affecting the country. Millions have emigrated as a result of the economic crisis and US sanctions, aimed at ousting President Nicolás Maduro, that have crippled the country’s productive capacity. A recent report by Venezuelan human rights collective SURES placed the migrant population at 5.4 million, though estimates vary.

Juan Guaidó, who the US still recognises as Venezuela’s president, was not consulted on the new policy.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]