There has been confusion about this plan trying to understand what is more relevant: humanitarian permits or deportations. But the former should not distract us from the important news: the White House’s new plan to control Venezuelan migration is a reaffirmation of former US President Donald Trump’s disastrous deportation policy, supported by the title 42, which allows “hot” expulsions and without the possibility of requesting asylum. The Biden government had tried to suspend it in March of this year and a judge denied it, but now, in a contradictory turn, he has decided to strengthen and expand it.
On its own, the new offer to grant 24,000 humanitarian parolees is good news. After all, one of the best ways to attack the border crisis is to offer legal alternatives to illegal crossings. The problem is that the furloughs, in the context of the rest of the plan, look like an attempt to gild the deportation pill.
There is no doubt that there is a serious crisis on the southern border of the United States. In fiscal year 2021, border authorities conducted 1.7 million arrests, a record figure. This year, even though the September results are missing, the number already exceeded the 2.1 million. Traditionally, most of the detainees are from Mexico and the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), but this has recently changed: migrants from other countries -especially from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua- represent a percentage higher and higher of the arrests.
Venezuela leads this trio of countries. This August, US authorities recorded more than 25,000 arrests of Venezuelans at the border, a figure four times higher than the same month last year. For the first time, the citizens of that country ranked second in number of arrests, after Mexico. In September this figure, already high, increased again and reached 33,000.
For Biden, this wave of migrants is a headache. What have you done to try to contain it? To a large extent, he has used the tool that he inherited from Trump. In early 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, Trump invoked the Title 42 health rule to immediately deport migrants detained at the border instead of processing their asylum applications, with the alibi of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Since then, both Trump and Biden have used it to expel migrants over 2.3 million times.
Title 42, however, has a limitation: it is an agile tool only if Mexico accepts the deportees. And under the initial agreement, this country only accepted to receive Mexicans and citizens of the Northern Triangle. For a time this was not a problem for the United States because the bulk of the migrants were from those four countries. But it began to be as migration from Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba increased. Since the United States could not expel these migrants to Mexico or to their place of origin —due to Washington’s complicated relationship with their governments— a high percentage was not being deportedwhich was a powerful incentive for more migrants of those nationalities to venture to the border.
All this led the United States to put pressure on Mexico to receive Nicaraguans, Cubans and Venezuelans expelled under Title 42 into its territory.
The new plan to grant permits to Venezuelans, with all this migratory context, is insufficient. First of all, because the number of permits is embarrassingly low: in August alone the number of arrests of Venezuelans at the border was almost equal to the total number of permits offered. To put this figure in perspective, it must be contrasted with the help of Colombia, which has granted a Temporary Protection Statute to 1.8 million Venezuelans.
Another problem is that the requirements to obtain a permit are tremendously exclusive. Applicants must have a financial sponsor in the United States, and those who entered Panama or Mexico illegally after October 12 are not eligible to apply. Only the latter excludes the thousands of Venezuelan refugees and migrants who are now crossing the Darien jungle, between Panama and Colombia. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, some 3,000 people, most of them from Venezuela, are arriving in Panama through the Darién every day.
Humanitarian permits also lose value when the other part of the plan is considered. Title 42 deportations mean that many people who deserve asylum lose their right to apply. A significant number of Venezuelans qualify for asylum, and Biden acknowledged this reality last year, when designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). But the decision to expeditiously deport Venezuelans is a violation of the right to asylum of this population that Biden, through TPS, recognized was vulnerable and could deserve protection.
Today the Biden Justice Department keep on fighting in favor of the suspension of Title 42 that the judge denied him, while his administration takes this incoherent turn of making it the cornerstone of the new plan to control Venezuelan migration. Whatever the reason for the shift, the new plan not only affects Venezuelan migrants, but also transit countries such as Panama and Costa Rica, which do not have the resources and infrastructure to deal with these migratory waves; and Mexico, where the shelters for migrants on the border since before the announcement they were no longer enough.
Instead of implementing draconian measures to reduce migration flows, the Biden administration should focus on keep expanding pathways for legal migration and seek ways to strengthen and expand protections for refugees and migrants. Or at least not remove them.
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Opinion | Biden expands a Trump policy to expel Venezuelan migrants