US migrant policy 'bucket of cold water' for some Venezuelans

Venezuelans who walk or swim across the border will be immediately returned to Mexico under the pandemic rules known as Title 42 authorities, which suspend the right to seek asylum under US and international law on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Gilbert Fernández from Venezuela is still planning to cross the treacherous Darién jungle into Panama and into the United States by land, even though the US announced that it would grant conditional humanitarian clearance to only 24,000 Venezuelan migrants arriving by air. “The news hit us like a bucket of cold water,” Fernández said on Thursday, a day after the announcement, which also stated that Venezuelans were arriving by land in Mexico-USA. the border will be returned to Mexico. Fernández spoke to The Associated Press on a beach in Necoclí, a coastal city in Colombia where about 9,000 people, mostly Venezuelans, wait to board a boat to take them to the entrance to the Darién Gap linking the South American country with Panama. From there, the migrants head overland to Central America via Mexico to the US.

Several people on the Colombian coast said they would find another route to the United States or stop sailing after hearing the news. Critics note that the number of humanitarian visas is only a fraction of the number of Venezuelans seeking to enter the United States. But for Fernández it was too late to turn around. He said he sold his car and land in Venezuela to pay for a trip with his 18-year-old son and friends, and he no longer had the money for a plane ticket to the US.

“For those of us who have already started, how are we going to do it?” he wondered. "We are already involved in this."

The US and Mexico said on Wednesday that the Biden administration agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants at US airports while Mexico agreed to take back Venezuelans who came to the US by land. Venezuelans who walk or swim across the border will be immediately returned to Mexico under the pandemic rules known as Title 42 authorities, which suspend the right to seek asylum under US and international law on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The US offer to Venezuela was modeled on a similar program for Ukrainians fleeing a Russian invasion. The move is in response to a dramatic increase in migration from Venezuela, which surpassed Guatemala and Honduras in August to become the second largest citizen to arrive at the US border after Mexico.

So far in 2022, more than 151,000 people have crossed into Panama through the jungle, the majority — 107,600 — Venezuelan. That already exceeds the 133,000 Venezuelans who crossed in the previous year, according to official Panamanian figures. A journey through an inhospitable jungle is fraught with dangers, including thieves, human traffickers and possible sexual assault. Armed groups operate in the region. Arrests of Venezuelans at the US border have also increased. Authorities detain 25,349 Venezuelans.

times in August, making them the country's second most detained nationals at the border, after Mexicans.

For some, the offer of 24,000 humanitarian visas is not enough given the dimensions of the Venezuelan migration situation and the visa requirements are too difficult. María Clara Robayo, an investigator for the Venezuelan Observatory at Colombia's Del Rosario University, said the flow of migrants through the Darién Pass may have reduced slightly but would not stop. “People will continue to expose themselves to precarious situations” across the forest, he said.

Jeremy Villegas arrived in Necoclí in a group of 30 people, most of whom returned or sought another route. He said he was still undecided and waiting to hear from people further along the route to see if it was worth the risk. Cristian Casamayor said he had decided to stop his journey through Darién after hearing about the new US policy. "I quit out of awareness and got smart ... they mark your passport and you can no longer enter the United States," he said, adding that he had not yet decided where he was going now. All he knew was that he wasn't going back to Venezuela.

Mario Ricardo Camejo, a member of the Colombian-Venezuelan non-profit foundation Fundacolven, said that while they appreciate humanitarian aid and visas from countries, such as the US, they fear the aid will come with difficult conditions for the poorest migrants. For example, must arrive by plane and have a financial sponsor. “Automatically, a filter is created to ensure that aid does not reach the people who need it most,” said Camejo. Of the more than 7.1 million Venezuelans who have fled their country due to the social and economic crisis, at least 4.3 million have difficulty accessing food, housing and formal jobs, according to a report released Wednesday by the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR.

Venezuelans in the nation's capital agree that the new rules will be detrimental. “People who go by land have no money, no visa, no family there” in the United States, said José Santana in the central square of Caracas. "It's useless for them to say that they will let a lot of people in by plane."

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