Immigration

Colombia Is Giving Legal Status to Migrants Fleeing Venezuela

The country just gave almost 2 million Venezuelans a pathway to citizenship.

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In 2019, Deveís Hernandez couldn't earn enough in Venezuela to keep his wife and two daughters fed, no matter how much he worked. So he spent the last of his savings on a series of bus trips from Puerto La Cruz, a small city on the northeastern coast, to Cúcuta, on the Colombian-Venezuelan border. He took up the gauntlet of a lawless frontier and left his homeland behind in hopes of building a better future.

By the time he crossed the border informally via a smuggling path controlled by criminals, his earthly possessions consisted of two pairs of shoes, a Captain America backpack, the clothes on his back, and a few pairs of socks.

From there he walked about 400 miles to the Colombian capital, Bogota, where he found a job in a recycling center. For a year, he worked under the table for about $9 a day, a bit less than the minimum wage in Colombia, which is $260 a month. He has been saving ever since to send for his family. "I won't make my daughters walk the trochas," he says, using the slang term for dangerous smuggling paths on the border.

So when President Iván Duque announced at the end of February that Colombia would extend full resident status to the almost 2 million Venezuelan migrants in Colombia as well as a path to citizenship, Hernandez was elated.

"This means I can finally get a real job," he says. "With luck, I won't have to live off scraps." He also hopes the measures will make it considerably easier to enroll his daughters in school when they arrive, an issue he has worried about since he lacks even basic paperwork for identification purposes.

Hernandez is one of 5.4 million Venezuelans that the United Nations estimates have fled their country due to violence, insecurity and threats; a collapsed economy; and a lack of food, medicine, and essential services. The International Monetary Fund expects that number to nearly double, to 10 million, by the end of 2023. As of January 2020, more than 1.7 million of those migrants were currently in Colombia.

Colombia will soon be offering migrants a full welcome. Duque's announcement means Colombia will give nearly 2 million immigrants—almost 5 percent of Colombia's total population—the ability to work legally and have access to education and health care systems. Those who register with the government will be put on a path to full citizenship.

Colombia's choice stands in sharp contrast to the United States, where migrants from Central America must wait months on the Southern border in squalid conditions, where mass deportations (even amid a pandemic) are commonplace, and where even immigrants who have lived in the country for 20 years might find themselves ripped away from their families and banished from their new homeland for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As politicians in the United States talked of border walls and anchor babies while the government spent hundreds of millions of dollars for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to stalk undocumented migrants, Colombia was conducting the largest open borders experiment the modern world has ever seen.

Since even before the Venezuelan collapse began in earnest in 2015, migrants needed only basic identification to enter Colombia. As former President Barack Obama, and successor Donald Trump, caged those trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, Colombia was officially welcoming a much larger quantity of refugees in comparison with its population—and with far less resources.

The United States has a GDP 60 times that of Colombia, despite having just over seven times the population. Colombia also has a poverty rate nearly four times that of the U.S., at 35.7 percent.

Yet, in sharp contrast with the U.S. and regional neighbors like Ecuador and Peru, Colombia kept its border open to Venezuelans until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The Venezuelan exodus has been a rare real-life trial case of how mass migration affects host countries. And the data have shown that most of the anti-immigrant arguments heard in both countries couldn't possibly be more wrong.

Economic prophecies of mass unemployment never came to pass. In fact, data from the Colombian central bank suggests that migration may have super-charged the Colombian economy, which experienced record growth between 2015 and 2020 before the pandemic crushed the economies of the entire region. Increased consumer demand, spending due to increased consumption, and a workforce that is often self-employed informally all contributed to a net positive effect on the Colombian economy.

Although migration did depress the wages of low-skilled workers slightly, according to the same labor force study, it had no negative effect on the employment rate. Economists suggest that the new law will allow skilled Venezuelans, such as teachers and engineers, to enter the Colombian job market that they were previously excluded from, as well as lower barriers for those who wish to start businesses.

The net economic impact of the migration has already been positive, and that trend is only likely to increase in the future as migrants move away from the informal job market.

Rumors of secure borders being necessary for security were similarly unfounded. Immigrants in both the United States and Colombia are less likely to commit crimes than natural-born citizens. In fact, their illegal status leaves them more vulnerable. Worldwide, migrants are more likely to be the victims of crime, and are less likely to report those crimes to the police.

"The U.S system leaves illegal immigrants living in fear," Adam Solow, an immigration lawyer in Philadelphia told Reason by phone. "It's effect is to create a second class citizenry who live in the shadows and can be exploited for their labor."

For Hernandez, Colombia's new law is a godsend. He now plans on sending for his wife and daughters, in addition to seeking a better job. "I haven't only been exiled from [the] country," he says. "I've been exiled from my family."

In Colombia, at least, that second part is no longer true. The U.S should learn from Colombia's experience that migration is not a threat to the nation, either economically or existentially, but rather an opportunity to invest in the country's future. Humane immigration policy isn't only the morally correct course of action, it is in our best interests.

NEXT: Is Greg Abbott Inviting Disaster in Texas by Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions?

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  1. Yet, in sharp contrast with the U.S. and regional neighbors like Ecuador and Peru, Colombia kept its border open to Venezuelans until the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The Venezuelan exodus has been a rare real-life trial case of how mass migration affects host countries. And the data have shown that most of the anti-immigrant arguments heard in both countries couldn’t possibly be more wrong.

    Wow, a lot to unpack here.

    This post has opened up subjects such as safe third countries- it essentially proves that the United States does NOT have to be the only landing place for every economic migrant on the planet.

    It also skirts around the issue of mass migration from people of similar culture, background and language, vs the more radical and culturally jarring condition of say, a few million people who don’t speak a lick of Swedish– and may have little interest in doing so, let alone share any of the cultural mores of the local climate suddenly popping up and getting on the cradle-to-grave welfare systems of first-world western nations.

    But in summary, I’m glad to see that one of the neighboring South American countries has stepped up in the immigration game, instead of hustling the immigrants through to another nation further north.

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    2. As usual, you’re right.

      Plus, Colombia is not offering them welfare. They’re offering the privilege to work and contribute to the tax base. They’re legalizing workers who are not yet paying taxes to build government power.

      It’s not mercy. It’s a plan to increase government control.

  2. makes annexation easier.

  3. Colombia will soon be offering migrants a full welcome. Duque’s announcement means Colombia will give nearly 2 million immigrants—almost 5 percent of Colombia’s total population

    […]

    The United States has a GDP 60 times that of Colombia, despite having just over seven times the population. Colombia also has a poverty rate nearly four times that of the U.S., at 35.7 percent.

    Oh and there’s also this. GDP shouldn’t matter. According to all the “data” we’ve been provided, adding 2 million immigrants– making up 5% of the population should have a net positive effect on their GDP, propelling Columbia towards first-world status. So the question becomes, why only 2 million?

  4. “where migrants from Central America must wait months on the Southern border ”

    You misspelled “choose to”

  5. As politicians in the United States talked of border walls and anchor babies while the government spent hundreds of millions of dollars for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to stalk undocumented migrants, Colombia was conducting the largest open borders experiment the modern world has ever seen.

    Is it? Can I move to Columbia tomorrow and get full resident status and a rapid pathway to citizenship? Or is this “open borders experiment” only being conducted to Venezuelan immigrants?

    Because if they are, then I would declare that if there’s one thing Columbia could use right now, is an injection of about 5 million Irish people.

    1. I’m pretty sure both Hitler and Stalin’s open borders experiments were much larger. The UN and WHO’s open borders experiments are larger still.

      But maybe I’m just confused about how a border is just a made up social construct but an open borders policy is some sort of empirical, objective thing.

  6. Colombia’s choice stands in sharp contrast to the United States

    So the US knows she’s hotter than Colombia but you want her to act like a whore anyway?

  7. I guess we’re pretending 3rd world shitholes are equivalent to the US now?

    1. B said Mexico = U.S.A. on Tuesday.

  8. Also, this is the last thing I’ll say on this subject, but when it comes to a sudden influx of people into a limited geographic area, it is precisely the people who tend to support open borders who complain about the stresses to the local economy and infrastructure.

    To draw the analogy, I live in a heavily Democratic area. I would argue that most Democrats are nominally pro-immigrant, and pro-open border. Nothing wrong with that. However, when my area (and others, San Francisco, California at large etc.) sees a large influx of people into a city or county because of strong economic conditions which drawing high skilled employees into the area, the screeching from local politicians is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. They begin to demand that the companies providing these jobs start paying their “fair share” for all the new and necessary infrastructure and housing to support this influx of people. We’ve all seen the articles. And this is a complaint when the people coming into the area are nominally high-earning, high skilled people who are instantly contributing to the tax base because they have a job. This says nothing about lag time to assimilation.

    So if the people who support the concept of open borders can claim a sudden large influx of engineers or tech workers from the next town, county or state stresses the economy and local infrastructure, how much stress will migrants from a foreign country produce?

    1. Real libertarians should both be pro-open borders and pro-stresses on local economies. Capitalism is creative destruction. If there isn’t flux in the kind of jobs that are available, it isn’t working right.

      Nothing ever changing is for poor countries.

  9. District of Columbia?

    1. Well, the barbed wire and troops would remind them of Venezuela.

  10. It makes sense. Colombia has a lot to gain from laissez-faire trade policies and a brain drain of smart marketeers fleeing coercion is a plus. Colombia has been a net loser in U.S. exports of the violence of law to make a crime of trade and production. Once we relegalize Birney’s Catarrhal Powder and Ryno’s Hay Fever and Catarrh Remedy, Colombian export income will again rise as America’s expenditures on armed thugs, snitches, wiretap interpreters, kidnapping gear and prisons decreases to pre-Harrison Act levels.

  11. a bit less than the minimum wage in Colombia, which is $260 a month.

    That’s only $1.63 an hour! How can anyone exist in a 3rd world country on wages that couldn’t get you a patch of clean sidewalk in San Francisco????

    1. Yet more reasons why Columbia is the better country to take them in.

    2. Is there any dollar amount which will get you a patch of clean sidewalk in San Francisco?

  12. https://twitter.com/dow_lopez/status/1366950433118318598?s=19

    Who is funding this?

    Illegal immigrants wearing “Biden please let us in” shirts for a photo op.

  13. It’s a losing issue as democrats are about to find out.

  14. Duque’s announcement means Colombia will give nearly 2 million immigrants
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  15. Considering that historically and culturally both countries are related, it’s not that amazing.

    It would basically be like the US allowing Canadians to move here freely. Which is how we got Alex Trebec and William Shatner

    1. Now wait a minute. We don’t need another William Shatner.

      And they don’t share our culture. the only legitimate thing to put on fries is salt or ketchup.

  16. Although migration did depress the wages of low-skilled workers slightly….

    That’s what we have been dealing with since 1965. What happened in 1965?

    https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-gF-61OAcOSE/UAeJGUvR-oI/AAAAAAAAApg/J1Roz0HV2Kw/s1600/071812krugman3-blog480.jpg

  17. We really need to start with the people already here as has been proposed. I doubt anything will get through congress though. They kick this around to keep it a political issue.

    1. We need to start paying snipers to eliminate border crossings, then dropping napalm on migrant caravans.

      We need to root out and deport every illegal, including the anchor babies who were birthed to illegals on our soil.

      It only needs to happen for a few weeks before word gets out and they stop coming.

      Let them get in line and apply for immigration the way normal skilled immigrants enter.

      Let them have a sponsor who will be financially responsible for them.

      Let them come alone and prove themselves, before any family can come over.

  18. Venezuela an oil rich nation took the oil energy revenues for redistribution and now they have nothing to redistribute.

    Reminiscent of this quote from Milton Friedman
    “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand. “

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