Over the past several months, record numbers of Venezuelans have crossed into the United States from Mexico. The Biden administration is turning them away and has quietly resumed a practice utilized by the Trump administration that involves third countries in the expulsion of Venezuelans. Venezuelans who previously resided in Colombia will now be returned there.
This week, CNN noted that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered 24,819 Venezuelans at the border in December 2021, "up from the previous month and continuing an increasing trend." Just over one year ago, "in December 2020, CBP encountered only around 200 Venezuelan migrants." But for these and many other hopeful asylum seekers, it's proving impossible to stay in the U.S.
Under a public health measure called Title 42, the Biden administration has expelled over 1 million migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforcement of the policy has severely hobbled the American asylum process in the name of containing COVID-19. "As part of the United States COVID-19 mitigation efforts, DHS continues to enforce CDC's Title 42 public health authority with all individuals encountered at the Southwest border," DHS told CNN.
The political and economic climate in Venezuela has deteriorated significantly in recent years, causing a mass exodus. Corruption is rampant, elections are rigged, and the oppressive regime of President Nicolás Maduro brutally (and sometimes violently) shuts down dissent. An estimated 76.6 percent of Venezuelans live on less than $1.90 per day. Hyperinflation has rendered their money worthless—in October, Venezuela announced it would cut six zeroes from its currency. Over 5.4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2014, amounting to the second-worst refugee crisis in the world after Syria.
American politicians have long recognized that the U.S. can provide refuge to fleeing Venezuelans. In 2019, the House passed bipartisan legislation that would have granted them a reprieve from deportation (though it later stalled in the Senate). Former President Donald Trump, no great friend of immigrants, offered Venezuelan nationals protection from deportation in one of the final moves of his presidency.
That said, Trump also "stealthily deported an unknown number of Venezuelans through a third country, possibly violating U.S. laws and undermining U.S. warnings about the socialist government's human rights record," the Associated Press reported in October 2020. Then–presidential candidate Joe Biden blasted the policy: "It's abundantly clear he has no regard for the suffering of the Venezuelan people."
Trump's deportation flights differed from Biden's in that they involved Trinidad and Tobago. Media outlets and politicians did not indicate whether Trump-era deportees had lived there previously, whereas Biden's DHS says it's sending Venezuelans to Colombia if they were resettled there at some point. Still, with Biden conducting deportation flights for Venezuelans and decrying Trump for similar conduct, the contradiction should be clear. And beyond this inconsistency lies an even more nonsensical one.
Despite carrying out third-country deportations, the Biden administration has taken steps to protect Venezuelans already present in the U.S. from expulsion. In March 2021, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an 18-month temporary protected status (TPS) for Venezuelans. TPS is a Homeland Security designation reserved for people fleeing an "ongoing armed conflict," "an environmental disaster, or an epidemic," or "other extraordinary and temporary conditions." Those benefitting from or deemed eligible for TPS are not removable from the U.S. and can acquire work authorizations. Venezuela joins countries like Yemen, Haiti, and Syria on the current list of TPS-designated countries.
"The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens," Mayorkas said. "It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises."
This applies to 320,000 Venezuelans already living in the U.S., with newcomers being excluded despite the administration's explicit recognition that the U.S. can and should be a safe haven. Expulsion to Venezuela is obviously far worse than expulsion to Colombia, which has long been open to its neighbor's refugees and has even laid out a path to citizenship for its Venezuelan migrant population. But the U.S. has plenty of resources to process, naturalize, and host Venezuelans, and shouldn't push more refugees on Colombia.
It's critical for the U.S. to welcome people fleeing one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, and it's absurd that the Biden administration is leaning into a pandemic border measure with questionable legal and medical validity to send them away. That approach shows little more "regard for the suffering of the Venezuelan people" than Trump's did.