“The news was like a bucket of cold water to me,” says 30-year-old Venezuelan Alejaidys Morey, who plans to travel to the United States by this week.
On Wednesday, the United States announced it was expanding Title 42, a pandemic-era provision that allows immigration officials to send illegal immigrants to Mexico on public health grounds. announced a new program Allowing some Venezuelan immigrants to apply to arrive at US ports of entry by air with a limit of 24,000.
Both plans were designed to deter Venezuelans like Morey from attempting to illegally and dangerously enter the US-Mexico border by land.
But many migrants already en route tell CNN that the Biden administration’s decision has left them in a painful limbo after they gave up everything to start the march north.
They also point out that the new airport entry program favors wealthy and well-connected Venezuelans, in other words, who can afford to fly north in the comfort of an airplane.
The Venezuelan migration crisis is more severe than ever before. More than seven million Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis in their homeland currently live abroad, according to new figures released this month by the United Nations.
Most live in other South American countries—more than two million in Colombia alone—but in recent months, an increasing number of people have started traveling north to the US via Central America and Mexico due to the Covid-19 outbreak and worsening living conditions. and the global food crisis.
As a result, the number of Venezuelans apprehended at the southern border of the United States is growing rapidly. According to the Department of Homeland Security, up to 180,000 Venezuelans crossed the border last year.
Panama and Mexico form a geographic gateway for land travelers from South America. Under the new US immigration provision, any northbound immigrant who enters Panama or Mexico illegally will not be eligible for the program.
This was going to be exactly the journey Morey, her husband Rodolfo, and their three children had planned. They first aimed to travel to the town of Necocli in Colombia, then walk to Panama through the Darien Gap, a 100-kilometer forest impassable by road.
Despite the numerous dangers, 150,000 migrants have crossed on foot so far this year, according to Panamanian authorities.
Morey, who is currently in Colombia, says a return to Venezuela is impossible. In 2018, his family sold their home in Santa Teresa del Tuy, a poor town about 30 kilometers southeast of Caracas, for US$1500 for a trip to Colombia.
Now, he feels left in limbo. Like others, he can’t afford to pay for an intercontinental flight – much less for his entire family.
“Under these circumstances, I have nowhere to go… I’m afraid: what can I do?” Morey told CNN.
His situation is normal for most of the immigrants currently traveling north.
“After all the pain, all the hurdles we have to overcome, we are now stuck. We are in Necocli and have nowhere to go…” A Venezuelan immigrant who wanted to be identified only as José told CNN.
According to local officials, up to 10,000 migrants are waiting in town to cross the bay to Darien Gap, but some are now reconsidering their next move.
“I’m in pain, I don’t know what to do now,” says Ender Devren, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who plans to join a group traveling north from Ecuador. But his plans changed after talking to other immigrants online.
“A few friends are considering settling somewhere between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, wherever they go,” he told CNN. “Everyone you talk to says the same thing: the whole road has collapsed; we can no longer travel.”
Senior Homeland Security official Blas Nuñez-Neto said in a phone call with reporters Thursday that the goal is to reduce the number of immigrants illegally approaching the southern US border, while also creating a legal pathway for those who are eligible.
But the plan has rarely met with criticism from members of the Venezuelan opposition, who often align with Washington in their fight against Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro.
“The US Government has declared a brutal immigration policy that has made the situation of thousands of Venezuelans more painful,” said Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate and one of the few anti-Maduro leaders still living in Caracas.
Carlos Vecchio, the official representative of the Venezuelan opposition in Washington, also tweeted that the plan was “inadequate for the magnitude” of Venezuela’s immigration crisis.
“We appreciate the efforts of POTUS to seek alternatives to the immigration crisis through Humanitarian Parole for orderly and safe immigration for Venezuelans,” he said.
“However, the 24,000 visas announced are insufficient for the size of the problem. A re-evaluation is needed on this issue,” he said.
The Venezuelan government did not comment on the new US policy.
But humanitarian organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have echoed criticisms of others that the 24,000 legal clearances are not enough, insisting that the deportation of others to Mexico under Title 42 should not be allowed.
“We are shocked by the Biden administration’s decision to begin deporting Venezuelans under Title 42, a cruel and inhumane policy that has no basis to protect public health that should have ended a long time ago,” MSF Executive Director Avril Benoit said in a statement. .
“While we welcome the launch of a dedicated humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans, providing safe roads to the United States should be the norm, not the exception.”
Rights activists argue that: refugees They must have a chance to present their case in the United States before being turned down.
Still, some immigrants say they see a glimmer of hope in the Biden administration’s new stance.
Oscar Chacin, a 44-year-old boxing coach who has been considering the idea of traveling to the US via Central America for weeks, told CNN he now sees a legal way to emigrate.
“It’s actually better for me. That’s going to make things worse for a lot of people, but it’s good for me,” he said. “I have relatives in the US, some friends and some former boxing students, some of whom can sponsor me and my family.”
His son, Oscar Alexander, was already in Mexico and entered before the new US immigration rules were announced.
“It will stay there now. He is already looking for a job and will submit the documents as soon as we find the sponsor,” he said.
“Then we’ll wait for the paperwork. Maybe a year, maybe two, but we’ll make it, I’m sure!”
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