President Nicolás Maduro took control of Venezuela in 2013. Since then, the socialist utopia he tried to create failed miserably. The country is in dire straits, and that was before the coronavirus pandemic hit South America. Venezuela’s shortages of food and medicine, along with regular power blackouts, were exacerbated. By anyone’s measure, Venezuela is a failed state.
Venezuelans fled to other South American countries during Maduro’s years in office as the country continued its downward spiral. Since the pandemic, though, Venezuelans are leaving those countries and coming to the U.S. border. They are what is labeled as a new kind of migrant – pandemic refugees. The surge in Venezuelan migration, as with the flood of Northern Triangle migrants, has caught the Biden administration off guard.
Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of nearly 6 million Venezuelans since President Nicolás Maduro took power in 2013.
While some are government opponents fearing harassment and jailing, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine.
With the pandemic still raging in many parts of South America, they have had to relocate again. Increasingly, they’re being joined at the U.S. border by people from the countries they initially fled to — even larger numbers of Ecuadorians and Brazilians have arrived this year — as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.
I wrote about Venezuelan migrants earlier this month. They are not all like typical migrants from Central American countries. Many were professionals in Venezuela and are educated. They have money. They are able to fly to Mexico City and travel from there in vehicles to the U.S. border. Many are trying a second time to come and claim asylum. Venezuelan migrants left good jobs and careers in that country and took more menial jobs in other South American countries to make money. For example, the AP spoke to one young woman, a 27-year-old who had been processed in Del Rio, Texas.
Like many of the dozens of Venezuelans The Associated Press spoke to this month in Del Rio, 27-year-old Lis Briceno had already migrated once before. After graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering, she couldn’t get hired in the oil fields near her hometown of Maracaibo without declaring her loyalty to Venezuela’s socialist leadership. So she moved to Chile a few years ago, finding work with a technology company.
But as anti-government unrest and the pandemic tanked Chile’s economy, sales plunged and her company shuttered.
Briceno sold what she could — a refrigerator, a telephone, her bed — to raise the $4,000 needed for her journey to the U.S. She filled a backpack and set out with a heart lock amulet she got from a friend to ward off evil spirits.
“I always thought I’d come here on vacation, to visit the places you see in the movies,” Briceno said. “But doing this? Never.”
These Venezuelan migrants have the financial means to make the journey to the U.S. border in four days, unlike poorer migrants. In Del Rio, they can eat, clean up, and then go on to cities with large Venezuelan communities by bus, like Houston or Miami. Nearly 45,000 Venezuelans have flown to Mexico City or Cancun and connect with smugglers who are paid to bring them to the border. Once here, Venezuelans are given a break that other migrants are not – Biden granted Temporary Protected Status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans. This allows them to work legally in the U.S. and protects them from deportation. Since the U.S. government can corroborate reports of political repression, most Venezuelans are granted asylum. This year only 26% of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied. In comparison, 80% of asylum claims from migrants from Central American countries are denied.
“I can write their asylum requests almost by heart,” said Jodi Goodwin, an immigration attorney in Harlingen, Texas, who has represented over 100 Venezuelans. “These are higher-educated people who can advocate for themselves and tell their story in a chronological, clean way that judges are accustomed to thinking.”
Even Venezuelans facing deportation have hope. The Trump administration broke diplomatic relations with Maduro when it recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s rightful leader in 2019. Air travel is suspended, even charter flights, making removal next to impossible.
Why wouldn’t they take the risk and try to cross into the United States? Just like other migrants, they believed Joe Biden when he made promises of open borders and no more deportations. He’s made good on his promises to undo the successes Trump had with border control. From his very first day in the White House, Biden has signed executive orders and actions to go the opposite way and that has led to his border crisis. The number of migrants crossing the border is at historic levels. Good job, Joe.
More Venezuelans were apprehended in May than in all 14 years in which records have been kept – the total for that one month was 7,484. It is very likely that the June numbers will not be much different. Compare that number to the 295 who crossed the southern border in January of this year. We see where this is going and it’s not good. South America is the COVID-19 hotspot of the world right now. It has eight times the world’s death rate, according to the Wall Street Journal. You can bet this doesn’t bode well for the Biden border crisis.