“The news hit me like a bucket of cold water,” says Alejaidis More, a 30-year-old Venezuelan woman who was planning to begin her journey to the United States as of this week.
On Wednesday, the US announced it was expanding Title 42 — a pandemic-era provision that allows immigration officials to deport illegal immigrants to Mexico on public health grounds — and New program unveiled To allow some Venezuelan immigrants to apply to arrive at US ports of entry by air with a cap of 24,000.
Both plans are designed to deter Venezuelans like Morey from trying to illegally and dangerously cross the US-Mexico border overland.
But many migrants already en route tell CNN that the Biden administration’s decision leaves them reeling after having already given up everything to begin the trek north.
They also point out that the new airport access program favors the wealthy and well-connected — in other words, Venezuelans who can fly north in the comfort of a plane.
Venezuela’s migration crisis is more acute than ever. More than seven million Venezuelans now live abroad, fleeing a humanitarian crisis in their home country, according to new figures released by the United Nations this month.
Most live in other South American countries – there are more than two million in Colombia alone – but in recent months a growing number have begun moving north to the US via Central America and Mexico, as living conditions worsen due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the global food crisis.
As a result, the number of Venezuelans apprehended at the US southern border is increasing. According to the Department of Homeland Security, 180,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border in the past year.
Panama and Mexico form a geographic route for overland travelers from South America. Under the new US immigration provision, any northern immigrant who entered Panama or Mexico illegally would be ineligible from the program.
Such would be the journey planned by Mora, her husband Rodolfo, and their three children. They aimed to travel first to the Colombian city of Necoclí and then cross into Panama, via the Darien Gap, a 100-kilometer jungle road inaccessible by road.
Despite the numerous dangers, 150,000 migrants have made the journey on foot so far this year, according to Panamanian officials.
Morey, currently in Colombia, says returning to Venezuela is impossible. In 2018, her family sold their home in the impoverished village of Santa Teresa del Tuy, 30 kilometers southeast of Caracas, for US$1,500 to pay for the trip to Colombia.
Now she feels like she has been thrown into a state of flux. Like many others, she can’t pay for a transcontinental flight—much less for her entire family.
“I have nowhere to go in this situation… I’m afraid: what can I do?” More told CNN.
Her situation is ideal for most migrants currently traveling north.
“After all this hard work, so many hurdles to overcome, now we are stuck. We’re in Necoclí and there’s nowhere to go…” a Venezuelan migrant who asked to be identified as Jose told CNN.
Up to 10,000 migrants are waiting in the city to cross the Gulf to the Darien Gap, but some are now reconsidering their next move, according to local officials.
“I’m in pain, I don’t know what to do now,” says Ender Deren, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who plans to join a group heading north from Ecuador. But after talking to other immigrants online, his plans changed.
“Some friends are thinking of settling somewhere between Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” he told CNN. “Every single person you talk to says the same thing: The whole road collapsed; We can no longer travel.”
In a call with reporters Thursday, senior Homeland Security official Blas Nunez-Neto said the goal is to reduce the number of immigrants crossing the U.S.’s southern border illegally while creating legal pathways for those who qualify.
But the plan drew rare criticism from members of Venezuela’s opposition, which is aligned with Washington in its struggle against Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro.
“The US government announced a brutal immigration policy, making the situation even more painful for thousands of Venezuelans,” tweeted Henrique Capriles, a two-time presidential candidate and one of the few anti-Maduro leaders living in Caracas.
Carlos Vecchio, the official representative of Venezuela’s opposition in Washington, also tweeted that the plan is “largely” inadequate for Venezuela’s migration crisis.
“We applaud @POTUS’ efforts to find an alternative to the migration crisis through humanitarian parole for orderly and safe migration to Venezuela,” he said.
“But the 24,000 visas announced are insufficient for the severity of the problem. A rethink is needed in this regard.”
The Venezuelan government has not commented on the new US policy.
But humanitarian organizations such as Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have echoed the criticism of others that the 24,000 legal permits are not enough – and insist that others should not be allowed to be deported to Mexico under Title 42.
“We are shocked by the Biden administration’s decision to deport Venezuelans under Title 42, a cruel and inhumane policy that has 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 rollout of a special humanitarian parole program for Venezuela, ensuring safe passage to the US should be the norm and not the exception.”
This was argued by rights activists Asylum seekers They should have an opportunity to present their cases to the US before being withdrawn.
Still, some immigrants say they see a glimmer of hope in the Biden administration’s new stance.
Oscar Chassin, 44, a boxing coach who had considered traveling to the US via Central America for weeks, told CNN that he now sees a legal way to immigrate.
“For me, that’s really good. It will 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 will be able to sponsor me and my family.”
His son Oscar Alexander is already in Mexico and entered before the new US immigration rules were unveiled.
“He will stay there now. He is already looking for a job and we will submit the documents as soon as we find a sponsor,” Chasin said.
“Then we will wait for the paperwork. Maybe one, maybe two years, but we’ll do it, I’m sure! ”