“The news hit me like a bucket of cold water,” says Aligidis Mori, a 30-year-old Venezuelan woman who until this week had been planning to travel toward the United States.
On Wednesday, the United States announced it was expanding Title 42 — a pandemic-era clause that allows immigration officials to expel illegal immigrants to Mexico on public health grounds — and Unveiled a new program To allow some Venezuelan immigrants to apply to reach US ports of entry by air, up to a maximum of 24,000.
Both plans were designed to dissuade Venezuelans like Morey from attempting to enter illegally and dangerously overland across the US-Mexico border.
But many immigrants who are already on their way tell CNN that the Biden administration’s decision leaves them in a painful bind, having already given up everything to begin the journey north.
They also point out that the airport’s new entry program favors the wealthy and the well-connected — in other words, Venezuelans who can travel north by plane.
The Venezuelan immigration crisis is more acute than ever. More than seven million Venezuelans are now living abroad, according to new figures released by the United Nations this month, fleeing a humanitarian crisis in their homeland.
Most live in other countries in South America – there are more than two million people in Colombia alone – but in recent months a growing number have begun heading north to the US via Central America and Mexico, where living conditions have deteriorated amid the Covid-19 pandemic and a global food crisis.
As a result, the number of Venezuelans arrested on the southern border of the United States swells. As many as 180,000 Venezuelans have crossed the border over the past year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Panama and Mexico form a geographic corridor for travelers from South America. Under the new US immigration clause, any northbound immigrant who enters Panama or Mexico illegally will not be eligible to join the program.
The trip that Morey, her husband, Rodolfo, and their three children had planned was just a trip. They intended to travel first to the town of Nicocle in Colombia, then hike to Panama via the Darien Gap, a 100-kilometre-long jungle that is impassable by road.
Despite the myriad risks, 150,000 migrants have crossed on foot so far this year, according to Panamanian authorities.
Mori, who is currently in Colombia, says a return to Venezuela is impossible. In 2018, her family sold their home in Santa Teresa del Tuy, a poor town about 30 kilometers southeast of Caracas, for $1,500 to pay for the trip to Colombia.
Now, she feels forgotten. Like many others, she can’t afford a transcontinental flight — let alone her entire family.
“Under these circumstances I have nowhere to go… I am afraid: what should I do?” Morey told CNN.
Its status is usual for most immigrants who are currently traveling north.
“After so much pain, so many obstacles that we had to overcome, we are now stuck. We are in Nicocle and we have nowhere to go…” a Venezuelan immigrant who only asked to be identified Jose told CNN.
According to local authorities, up to 10,000 migrants are waiting in the town to cross the bay to Darren Gap, but some are now reconsidering their next step.
“I’m in pain, I don’t know what to do now,” says Ender Derin, a 28-year-old Venezuelan who was planning to join a group traveling north from Ecuador. But his plans changed after speaking with other immigrants online.
“A couple of friends are thinking about settling down wherever they go, somewhere between Costa Rica and Nicaragua,” he told CNN. “Everyone you talk to says the same thing: the whole path has collapsed; we can no longer travel.”
In a call with reporters Thursday, a senior Homeland Security official, Blas Nunez Nieto, said the goal is to reduce the number of immigrants illegally approaching the southern border of the United States, while at the same time creating a legal pathway for those who qualify.
But the plan has met with rare criticism from members of the Venezuelan opposition generally allied with Washington in their struggle against authoritarian Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro.
“The US government has announced a harsh immigration policy, which is making the situation of thousands of Venezuelans even more painful,” tweeted Henrique Capriles, twice 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 was “insufficient for the scale” of the migration crisis in Venezuela.
“We are aware of POTUS’ efforts to search for alternatives to the migration crisis through humanitarian parole, for the orderly and safe migration of Venezuelans,” he said.
But the 24,000 announced visas are insufficient for the scale of the problem. Reconsideration is necessary 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 criticism from others that 24,000 legal permits are insufficient – and insisted that others should not be allowed to be expelled to Mexico under Title 42.
“We are shocked by the Biden administration’s decision to begin expelling Venezuelans under Title 42, a cruel, inhumane and baseless policy in protecting public health that should have ended so long ago,” Avril Benoit, MSF executive director, said in a statement. .
“While we welcome the launch of a special humanitarian parole program for Venezuelans, ensuring safe passage to the United States should be the rule, not the exception.”
Rights activists argue this asylum seekers They must have the opportunity to present their cases in the United States before being returned.
Still, some immigrants say they are seeing a glimmer of hope in the Biden administration’s new position.
Oscar Chasin, 44, a boxing coach who has weighed the idea of traveling to the United States through Central America for weeks, told CNN he now sees a legal path to immigration.
“For me, it’s actually better. It’s going to make things worse for a lot of people, but for me it’s good.” “I have relatives in the US, some friends and some former boxing students, some of whom will be able to take care of me and my family.”
His son, Oscar Alexander, is already in Mexico and entered before the new US immigration rules were revealed.
“He will stay there now. He is already looking for a job, and we will provide the documents as soon as we find the sponsor,” Chasin said.
Then we will wait for the papers. Maybe one year, maybe two years, but I’m sure we’ll make it! ”