The U.S. government has allowed more than 6,800 Venezuelans to travel legally to the United States, and admitted several hundred, under a sponsorship initiative the Biden administration set up in October to manage a number record number of Venezuelan migrants arriving along the southern border, officials said Thursday.
Since the program’s launch on Oct. 18, about 490 Venezuelans have arrived in the United States under humanitarian parole authority, allowing them to live and work legally in the country for at least two years, according to officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). .
The program, currently capped at 24,000 arrivals, allows people based in the United States who are willing and able to financially sponsor someone from Venezuela to apply on their behalf. Venezuelans who entered Panama, Mexico or the United States illegally after Oct. 18 are not eligible to come to the United States under the policy.
The sponsorship initiative, which is modeled on another conditional immigration program that allowedwith American sponsors to enter the country, was last month as part of a strategy to respond to the unprecedented number of Venezuelans entering detention at the U.S. border.
In fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, U.S. authorities along the Mexican border processed approximately 188,000 Venezuelans, allowing the vast majority to seek asylum in the United States. United since Venezuela’s authoritarian government has generally rejected U.S. deportations, according to government statistics.
But after reaching an agreement with the Mexican government in mid-October, US border officials began deporting Venezuelans who entered the country illegally to Mexico under a public health authority, known as Title. 42, which was first invoked by the Trump administration at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 6,311 Venezuelans have been deported to Mexico since the Oct. 12 announcement, according to unofficial data compiled by United Nations and International Organization for Migration officials through secondary sources.
The change in policy immediately led to a sharp decrease in illegal border crossings by Venezuelans. On Thursday, DHS officials said the United States was seeing an average of 300 illegal entries of Venezuelans along the southern border per day, up from a daily average of 1,100 before the new policies were announced.
The Panamanian government has also reported a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelan migrants crossing the Darién Gap, a mountainous jungle near the Panama-Colombia border that tens of thousands of Venezuelans have crossed on foot in the past year before criss-crossing Central America and Mexico to reach the United States
“Initial data shows that when there is a legal and orderly pathway, people are less likely to put lives in the hands of smugglers,” DHS said in a statement.
Data released Thursday shows that 28% of the 24,000 places allocated to Venezuelan migrants under the sponsorship program have already been selected, a sign that the cap could be reached within weeks. Biden administration officials have said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas could raise the program’s cap if he decides the move is warranted.
While the new policies for migrants from Venezuela have so far resulted in a significant and lasting reduction in the number of Venezuelans entering the United States illegally, they do not apply to migrants from other countries, such as Cuba and the United States. Nicaragua, who also traveled to the southern border of the United States. in record numbers over the past year.
U.S. border officials stopped migrants nearly 2.4 million times in fiscal year 2022, the highest tally on record. More than a million of these border encounters resulted in the deportation of migrants from the United States under Title 42. The tally also includes a significant number of repeat crossings among migrants deported to Mexico.
While the Biden administration has received praise for creating a legal route for some Venezuelans to enter the United States, migrant advocates have condemned the use of the Title 42 public health order to deport migrants. Venezuelans without allowing them to seek asylum, a right migrants on American soil have under US law.
The Biden administration attempted to end Title 42 earlier this year, but was prevented from doing so by a Republican-led lawsuit in federal court. For more than a year, however, the Biden administration relied on the Trump-era argument that Title 42 was needed to contain COVID-19 along the southern border.
“There is no scientific evidence to suggest that arriving Venezuelan nationals pose a unique threat to public health more than any other individual or group,” dozens of public health experts said in a letter to President Biden and to other administration officials this week.
The arrival of tens of thousands of migrants from Venezuela to the US-Mexico border is part of an exodus of millions of Venezuelans who have fled economic collapse and authoritarian rule in Venezuela under socialist President Nicolás Maduro. More than 7 million Venezuelans have left their homeland, the largest refugee crisis recorded in the Americas, according to the United Nations.