In Tegucigalpa, San Salvador, San Pedro Sula or Guatemala City, in the streets of the centers and “tourist” areas, one can encounter hundreds of Venezuelans asking for support to reach the United States. This has been the case since the Biden administration changed migration rules in mid-October, deciding to grant 24,000 entry visas to those coming from the Maduro-ruled country, mostly to those arriving by plane or those who already have relatives in the U.S.
This is a ridiculously low number, considering that between October 2021 and the end of August, 150,000 people with Venezuela passports were arrested at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The measure has not had the result of reducing the flow of migrants: according to data released by Panama’s National Migration Service, 211,355 migrants have already crossed the country bound for the U.S. in 2022, 59,773 in October alone. Almost all have Venezuelan, Ecuadorian or Haitian passports. As many as 10,918, 18 percent of them, were minors, as reported by UNICEF. Furthermore, the socio-economic situation in Nicaragua, worsened by the new U.S. sanctions, is opening the door to a new flow of migrants. It is no mystery that the migratory journey of Cubans often begins in Nicaragua.
In 2022, U.S. border patrols stopped 2,766,582 people. The top three by nationality are people from Mexico (757,860), Guatemala (217,541) and Honduras (200,286). In fourth, fifth and sixth place are Cuba (197,870), Venezuela (155,553) and Nicaragua (146,331). These numbers are telling us three things: the first is that the anti-migratory policies of Trump and Biden are only increasing the number of migrants seeking to travel to the U.S. The second is that impoverishment and lack of security (phenomena often heightened by the imposition of neoliberalism in the ‘70s and ‘80s or the repatriation of the pandilleros detained in the U.S.) generate despair and violence and thus increase the number of people willing to risk their lives to migrate. The third is that despite pressure on Guatemala and Mexico and the militarization of the two countries’ response in order to block migrants, and despite tight controls at the U.S. southern border, the porosity of the borders makes it impossible to stop the flow of migration.
On Tuesday, November 15, U.S. federal judge Emmet Sullivan blocked “Title 42,” the rule which the United States used to quickly deport undocumented migrants using the pandemic as a pretext. In the judge’s ruling, he described the rule as “arbitrary and capricious.” Article 42 was introduced, voted on and implemented in 2020, during the Trump administration, but was kept by the Biden administration. This rule allowed more than 2 million people to be sent back to Mexico without formality, supposedly for medical reasons. It was an emergency rule which only multiplied attempts to cross the border.
Looking at recent choices in migration politics, it’s hard to comprehend the choice of the U.S. administration to tie only Venezuelan migration to a precise and stringently enforced number, while at the same time, for instance, almost never applying Article 42 to those with Nicaraguan passports stopped at the border, and even allowing them to apply for asylum in the U.S. after being detained. These are choices that both fuel and refute the simplistic narrative that U.S. policies are made with a view to those fleeing “enemy countries,” with the political purpose of destabilizing their governments.
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