Venezuelan migrants in shock and limbo after new US immigration plan


“The news hit me like a bucket of cold water,” says Alejaidys Morey, a 30-year-old Venezuelan woman who had planned to start traveling to the United States until this week.

On Wednesday, the US announced it is expanding Title 42 – the pandemic-era provision that allows immigration officials to deport illegal migrants to Mexico on public health grounds – and introduced a new program to allow some Venezuelan migrants to apply at US ports. with a limit of 24,000 to enter by air.

Both plans are designed to prevent Venezuelans like Morey from trying to illegally and dangerously cross the US-Mexico border.

But many migrants already on their way tell CNN that the Biden administration’s decision leaves them in a dire limbo after they’ve already given up everything to start their journey north.

They also point out that the airport’s new entry program favors the wealthy and well-connected, namely Venezuelans who can fly north in the comfort of a plane.

Venezuela’s migration crisis is more serious than ever. More than seven million Venezuelans are currently living abroad, according to new figures released by the United Nations this month, fleeing the humanitarian crisis in their country.

Most of them live in other South American countries – there are more than two million in Colombia alone – but in recent months a growing number have started moving north to the US through Central America and Mexico as living conditions worsen due to the Covid-19 pandemic. global food crisis.

As a result, the number of Venezuelans apprehended at the US southern border is ballooning. 180,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border in the past year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Panama and Mexico form a geographic gateway for overland travelers from South America. Under the new US immigration law, any northbound migrant who enters Panama or Mexico illegally will not be eligible for the program.

Morey, her husband Rodolfo and their three children planned this trip. Their goal was to travel first to the Colombian town of Necocli, and then to walk through the Darien Gap to Panama, a 100-kilometer stretch of jungle that cannot be crossed by road.

Despite the many dangers, 150,000 migrants have crossed on foot this year, according to Panamanian authorities.

Morey, who is currently in Colombia, says it is impossible to return to Venezuela. In 2018, his family sold their house in Santa Teresa del Tuy, a poor town about 30 kilometers southeast of Caracas, for $1,500 to pay for a trip to Colombia.

Now, he feels like he’s been in limbo. Like many others, he cannot afford a transcontinental flight, let alone for his entire family.

“In these situations I have nowhere to go… I’m afraid: what can I do?” Morey told CNN.

His situation is typical of most migrants heading north today.

“After so much pain, so many obstacles to overcome, now we are stuck. We are in Necocl and we have nowhere to go… “a Venezuelan migrant, who asked to be identified only as José, told CNN.

Up to 10,000 migrants are in town waiting to cross the bay to the Darien Gap, according to local officials, but some are now rethinking their next move.

“I’m in pain, I don’t know what to do now,” says Ender Dairen, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who was planning to join a group traveling north from Ecuador. But his plans changed after talking to other migrants online.

“Some of them are thinking of being located where they have arrived, between Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” he told CNN. “Every person you talk to says the same thing: the whole route collapsed; we can’t travel anymore.’

Yadimar, a Venezuelan migrant who was sent to Mexico under Title 42.

In a call with reporters Thursday, Homeland Security Chief Blas Nuñez-Neto said the goal is to reduce the number of migrants illegally approaching the US southern border, while creating a legal pathway for those who are eligible.

But the plan drew rare criticism from members of Venezuela’s opposition, who generally side with Washington in their fight against Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro.

“The US Government announced a cruel migration policy that makes the situation more painful for thousands of Venezuelans,” tweeted Henrique Capriles, a 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 is “insufficient for the dimension” of the Venezuelan migration crisis.

“We recognize the efforts of @POTUS to find alternatives to the migration crisis through the Humanitarian Provision for the orderly and safe migration of Venezuelans,” he said.

“But the announced 24,000 visas are not enough for the size of the problem. In this sense, it is necessary to reconsider.”

The Venezuelan government has not commented on the new US policy.

But humanitarian organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have resisted criticism from others that 24,000 legal permits are not enough, insisting that deporting others to Mexico under Title 42 should not be allowed.

“We are appalled by the Biden administration’s decision to begin deporting Venezuelans under Title 42, a cruel and inhumane policy with no basis in protecting public health that should have ended long ago,” MSF Executive Director Avril Benoit said in a statement. .

“While we welcome the expansion of a special humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans, ensuring safe pathways to the US should be the rule, not the exception.”

Rights activists say asylum seekers should be given the chance to present their cases in the US before being turned away.

Still, some migrants say they see a glimmer of hope in the new stance of the Biden administration.

Oscar Chacin, a 44-year-old boxing instructor who spent weeks contemplating the idea of ​​traveling to the United States in Central America, told CNN that he now sees a legal way to migrate.

“To be honest, it’s better for me. That’s going to make it worse for so many people, but it’s good for me,” he said. “I have relatives in the US, some friends and some former boxing students, some of them will be able to protect me and my family.”

Her son, Oscar Alexander, is already in Mexico and entered the US before the new immigration rules were introduced.

“Now it will stay there. He is already looking for a job, and we will present the documentation as soon as we find a sponsor,” said Chacin.

“After that, we will wait for the paperwork. Maybe one, maybe two years, but we’ll make it, I’m sure!”