The United States began deporting to Colombia Venezuelans who had lived in the country before trying to cross illegally into American territory. The first deportees were two Venezuelan immigrants who were in custody and who previously resided in Colombia.
They were deported on January 27, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed on Tuesday (1st) in a statement to BBC News Mundo (the BBC’s Spanish service).
DHS specified that the deportation was based on Title 42, a policy established by the administration of Donald Trump (2017-2021) and maintained by Joe Biden, which allows migrants to be quickly expelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the statement, the government says that flights with Venezuelans who previously resided in Colombia must be carried out “on a regular basis”, operated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE).
The agency “is committed to ensuring that each migrant encountered is treated in a safe, orderly and humane manner,” the statement said. The note recalls that the DHS expelled immigrants to other countries in the region where they previously resided, such as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or Brazil.
The Colombian government, through the Office of Migration, confirmed the arrival of the Venezuelans. “These foreigners, who arrived with their documents in order, left the national territory for Mexico and then crossed irregularly to the US,” a spokesperson told AFP.
In its statement, the US Department of Homeland Security highlighted that the decision to deport Venezuelans to Colombian territory was taken after “talking to Colombia”.
The Colombian press reported that in December both governments met to explore this possibility, but that Colombian chancellor and vice president, Marta Lucía Ramírez, claimed on Tuesday that there was no agreement on the matter with the US. “We have not signed any agreement with the US to receive 6,000 deported Venezuelans, as indicated by some media,” she told Blu Radio.
“The US has raised the possibility that some Venezuelans, who arrived irregularly with Colombians, will be deported. If they are Colombians, then they should be deported. If they are Venezuelans who are part of the Temporary Protection Statute and no longer want to live in Colombia, we will analyze it. “
BBC News Mundo has contacted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Colombia, but as of the publication of this report, it has not received a response.
Colombia has been the main recipient of Venezuelan immigrants due to the economic crisis that hit the neighboring country in the last decade. The country is home to more than 1.7 million Venezuelans.
But the growing flow of Venezuelan immigration has other destinations as well. In December, US authorities found Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border illegally nearly 25,000 times — the second most common nationality after Mexicans. The number was more than double recorded just three months earlier and much higher than the nearly 200 a year ago.
Since the US broke off diplomatic relations with the government of Nicolás Maduro, US immigration authorities have been unable to process deportations of Venezuelans to their home country.
The Venezuelan embassy in the US, held by the opposition group of leader Juan Guaidó (recognized by Washington as the “interim president”), appealed to the US government in a statement on Tuesday for Venezuelan migrants to apply for asylum. The embassy says the imposition of restrictions “will only deepen the crisis and increase illegal business such as human trafficking and smuggling”.
As the DHS points out in its statement, the deportations are being carried out following the indications of the so-called Title 42. This is an exception to the country’s health law, which allows restricting the entry of foreigners by land for health reasons (even for who has seen).
The rule was created in the 1940s and stated that if any government-certified doctor determined that a person was at risk of introducing a contagious disease into the country, that person should be expelled immediately. This decision later became the sole responsibility of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was rarely acted upon over the decades. But in March 2020, then-President Donald Trump reactivated the rule in the context of the pandemic, generating controversy, because the measure restricts the right to seek asylum in the country.
In September of last year, American radio NPR reported that the Biden administration had asked in court that Title 42 be kept for immigration matters, in order to “slow the spread of Covid-19 in the country”. Olga Byrne, director of migration affairs at the International Rescue Committee, criticizes the measure. “Despite the commitments announced by the US government in the first 100 days, harmful policies like Title 42 remain in effect more than a year after inauguration,” she says.
“Title 42 removals deprive asylum seekers of asylum and instead send them back to dangerous conditions similar, if not worse, to those they escaped from. In certain cases, they are sent to third countries like Colombia. “
More immigrants on the southern border
Venezuelans have become the second nationality, behind Mexicans, who most seek to cross the southern border of the US, according to data from US authorities.
According to border patrol reports, the intersections where the most immigrants were identified were Yuma, Arizona, and Del Río, Texas. Venezuelans often travel to Mexicali, Mexico, and from there try to cross the Yuma Pass. Last September, the UN confirmed that nearly 6 million Venezuelans had left the country in recent years. Many of them pointed out that they emigrated due to the economic crisis that the South American country is going through.
Colombia, the main recipient of this migration, has activated an ambitious plan to naturalize Venezuelans, who are estimated to represent a population of about one and a half million people.