DHS says its Venezuelan Title 42 expansion is working

Venezuelan migrants walk near an army checkpoint on the road to Tonala, Chiapas state, Mexico, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. The Biden administration has agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants at U.S. airports, while Mexico has agreed to take back Venezuelans who come to the U.S. illegally over land. Effective immediately, those who walk or swim across the border will be immediately returned to Mexico under a pandemic rule known as Title 42 authority, which suspends rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Biden administration officials on Friday touted the initial success of a program to admit a small number of Venezuelan migrants to the United States while summarily expelling others who come without permission.

In a late call with reporters, an official with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said U.S. border officials’ encounters with Venezuelan nationals dropped as much as 86 percent compared to the week before the program was announced.

Earlier this month, DHS officials announced an expansion of Title 42 — a Trump-era policy that allows agents to quickly expel foreign nationals at the border — to extend the policy to Venezuelans, who had not previously been eligible for expulsions.

In tandem with the Title 42 expansion, DHS said it would admit 24,000 Venezuelans under a new process where they could apply for sponsorship to come to the United States from other countries in the hemisphere.

The plan was severely criticized by immigration advocates — and essentially ignored by Republicans — who said expanding Title 42 violated the principles of U.S. asylum law.

Title 42 is in theory a public health policy under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authority, but CDC officials have said it was imposed on them by the former President Trump’s White House, contrary to their public health recommendations.

The Biden administration is fighting in courts to end the policy, even as it expands its application to Venezuelans.

Still, Biden administration officials said the new program’s success is not due only to the threat of immediate expulsion at the border, but also to proactive communication of the new pathways to enter the United States.

An administration official said the program has shown initial success at the U.S.-Mexico border, but a similar decrease in traffic of Venezuelans at the Darién Gap, the dangerous Panamanian jungle on the border with Colombia.

“This is specifically how we designed this program, to create incentives for people to stay where they are and to be able to apply through a legal channel to come to the United States and to avoid putting their lives into the hands of criminals smuggling networks,” said the official.

Still, more than 7 million Venezuelans have left their country over the last decade, and many are scattered throughout the continent, often finding the need to flee other Latin American countries when attitudes and policies towards them change.

The availability of 24,000 highly restrictive permits — to apply Venezuelans must hold a valid passport and have a U.S.-based sponsor — is unlikely to have a permanent effect on regional migration patterns.

“If it has the effect that we intended it to have, and it seems to be thus far having that effect, we will put in place a process to reevaluate that number and maybe choose to increase it,” said an administration official.

And another official noted demand from potential U.S. sponsors for Venezuelans is high, an early indication that migrants and their stateside advocates are at least giving the Biden administration’s approach the benefit of the doubt.

But officials noted the reduction in Venezuelan apprehensions will not be reflected when September’s southwest border apprehension numbers are released, likely the last release of border statistics before the November midterm elections.

Tags Biden administration border security Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC Department of Homeland Security Joe Biden Mexico Title 42 Trump administration United States Venezuela

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