“Rafters of the air” was an expression popularized a few decades ago to describe Venezuelans who immigrated to the United States after Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999.
That phrase no longer describes the way Venezuelans cross into the U.S. It’s more like the more recent so-called “wetbacks,” coined in the 1920s — and often used pejoratively — to refer to people who swam across the Rio Grande from Mexico.
In August this year, count Venezuelans They cCrossing the border from Mexico into the United States older than him Guatemalans and Hondurans. Only the Mexicans made more crossovers.
The Border Patrol recorded approximately 25,349 encounters with Venezuelans that month. This number more than quadruples the 6,301 cases of this type recorded in August 2021.
In September, the number continued to rise, when 33,000 encounters with Venezuelans were recorded along the southern border, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
But the data that most clearly shows how things have changed in the last two years is as follows: Between fiscal years 2014 and 2019, the monthly average of in-person meetings with Venezuelans was 127..
Overall, DHS reported a 293% increase in in-person encounters with Venezuelans at the border between fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 (which ended on September 30).
Faced with this situation, the government of President Joe Biden announced this Wednesday a new policy that provides for the deportation to Mexico of all Venezuelans who enter the United States without permission through the border, but at the same time will allow the reception of the country. Humanitarian clearance for approximately 24,000 Venezuelans who meet continuing needs.
But why are so many Venezuelans crossing the southern border into the US?
A country in crisis
Historically, Venezuelans have not had a tradition of immigration.
On the contrary.
In the 20th century, your country became a welcoming destination for people from other countries in Latin America and Southern Europe for decades.
The deep crisis Venezuela has experienced over the past seven years has completely changed that dynamic and the country has become a massive emitter of migrants.
About 7.1 million Venezuelans (about 20% of the total) currently live as migrants or refugees. According to UN data for September 2022, in different parts of the world.
Juan Navarrete, deputy director for the refugee crisis of Amnesty International Venezuela, based in Bogotá, said this figure confirms that the Venezuelan migration crisis is still active, because only in the previous data – related to August 2022 – it was 6.8 million. People.
“The flow of people leaving Venezuela continues, although perhaps not at the same rate as in the 2015-2017 period,” Navarrete tells BBC Mundo.
Julia Kellett, senior analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, believes so A combination of difficult economic and political conditions has sustained the flow of Venezuelan migrants Some who have been waiting for Nicolás Maduro’s government to leave may have thought now was the time to leave.
Venezuela exited a long period of high inflation in December 2021, but it remains one of the world’s most hyperinflationary countries.
In the past two months, the Venezuelan currency has depreciated by about 30% against the dollar, rising from 6.28 bolivars in August to 8.26 bolivars this week, which equates to a minimum monthly salary of about US$16 for Venezuelans.
Since the beginning of the migration crisis, most Venezuelans who have decided to seek life abroad have gone to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: about 5.96 million.
It is estimated that there are nearly 2.5 million Venezuelans in Colombia, 1.5 million in Peru, 500 thousand in Ecuador and 450 thousand in Chile.
However, Navarrete explains it Conditions for the entry and permanence of Venezuelan nationals in the region have become difficult in recent years.
This led to a change in migration patterns, so now instead of looking for routes to the south, they are looking further north.
“As is Darien’s ‘plug.’ [una selva muy peligrosa que deben atravesar los migrantes que van de Colombia hacia Panamá] Now, especially after the coronavirus pandemic, A ‘plug‘ In the south, since the countries of the region began to demands To the people of Venezuela Visas and other documents are difficult to obtain“, he points out.
Adding to these difficulties are episodes of racism in some countries, such as Chile and Peru, the expert notes, which migrants take into account when considering possible destinations.
In addition to all this, after the coronavirus pandemic, the economic situation in the countries of the region has worsened for both the local population and the migrants, who were left in an even more precarious situation.
“I think that’s a change that’s happened recently Economic conditions in other countries prompted Venezuelans to come to the United States«, points out Julia Gelat.
The fascination of American and colonial intelligence
Navarrete explains that due to worsening economic conditions and increasing difficulties in traveling to other Latin American countries, the United States may appear more attractive in the minds of Venezuelan immigrants.
“A Venezuelan immigrant living on the street begging in Colombia may think he can get more money in the US, where living conditions are better. So, in their imagination, they prefer to walk north rather than south, not thinking that the dangers of the northern route are too great,” he says.
Added to this is the fact that Until this Wednesday, The United States had a leniency policy toward Venezuelan immigrantsOfficials in that country see both Biden and his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, as victims of Maduro’s government, which they view as a dictator.
A press release from United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued in September indicated that “large numbers of people fleeing failed communist regimes in Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba contribute to the high number of migrants attempting to cross the border.”
During the same days, when consulted by journalists, President Biden said that it was not “rational” to send back migrants to those three countries.
Until now, this situation has been in practice for several months When Venezuelans cross the border from Mexico into the United States they directly and voluntarily “surrender” to the Border Patrol.Because they thought they weren’t going to be deported, but that they would be detained for a few days and then released to wait for their asylum application to be considered by an immigration judge.
This represents a fundamental difference in the treatment given to immigrants from many countries who are deported from the United States to Mexico or deported to their home countries.
“Some immigrants have learned that the U.S. has so far let Venezuela in and not deport them under Title 42. [una norma de la era Trump que permite devolverlos hacia México con la excusa de la pandemia de coronavirus], unlike what happens to immigrants from other countries. I think information spread among immigrant networks,” says Kellett.
Navarrete mentions this phenomenon Immigrant intelligence: The exchange of information between migrants, as he explains, happens a lot through Tiktok and Facebook, in the case of Venezuela.
According to the expert, the sum of all these elements attracts the idea of immigrating to the United States in the minds of Venezuelan immigrants.
Will things change now that the Biden administration has announced it will deport Mexican-Venezuelans who try to enter the southern border without visas?
Navarrete believes, in part, that it depends on what happens with this information and how it is handled in migrant networks, and points out that many of the migrants are young people, from popular sectors, who do not know the law. Regulations on Migration.
It also adds that migrant smuggling groups have found a business opportunity in Venezuela.
Julia Gelat, for her part, thinks that while some may decide to stay in Venezuela or go to other countries, there may be those who insist on going to the United States.
«If people can escape hunger, poverty and political oppression in Venezuela, they will travel.And Anyway Maybe they’ll try to sneak across the border, though they’ll no longer look for Border Patrol agents to let them in and stay. People can still try to come, but secretly,” he says.
“When conditions are very difficult, there will be people who migrate to survive and they may still try to come to the United States,” he concludes.
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