Venezuelan migrants have reported being expelled from the country and sent to Colombia under the controversial Title 42 program. The U.S. government deported the migrants without a chance to seek asylum after entering the country through Mexico. Immigration advocates at Human Rights First say the expulsions are another broken pledge by the Biden administration, which once condemned former President Donald Trump for using “stealth deportations” through third countries to send Venezuelans back to their country facing an ongoing economic, political, and humanitarian crisis.
“[The U.S.] can’t deport anyone directly to Venezuela, but they are desperate to send a message to Venezuelans not to try and seek asylum in the U.S.,” said Kennji Kizuka, associate director of research and analysis for refugee protection for Human Rights First. “These expulsions via Colombia or via the Dominican Republic are meant to deter people who might want to seek asylum in the U.S. to try and convince them that it’s not worth coming here.”
Title 42, which was recently upheld after it underwent review by the Biden administration, cites the recent Omicron surge and global health crisis as a reason for removing people. But, immigration advocates say Title 42 is a xenophobic and racist policy meant to keep people out of the country without providing the opportunity to access any protection screening required by law.
“It is a migration policy to try and dissuade people from coming to the U.S. because the Biden administration is afraid of the number of people who are coming and the reaction of politicians to people who are in need of help,” Kizuka said.
The decision to deport Venezuelans comes after the Biden administration designated Venezuelans could apply for Temporary Protected Status as long as they have resided in the U.S. since March 8, 2021. The state has previously defined Venezuela as an “illegitimate and authoritarian regime” that commits “crimes against humanity.” Venezuela’s crumbling economy has a long history, stemming from declining oil prices, decades of mismanagement and corruption, which has resulted in continuous protests from the people. The government’s response has been human rights abuses which led to economic sanctions in 2017, contributing to an already grave crisis.
Andrea Piccardo Chacon, who immigrated from Caracas, Venezuela, in 2001, remembers there was a sense of normalization around kidnappings, protest, and corruption. As economic conditions have deteriorated in the country, she says having the means to leave through a travel or student visa has become increasingly difficult.
“If you have money, leaving the country is possible,” Piccardo Chacon said. “But that is just unattainable for the vast majority of people.”
Advocates say deporting migrants could be incredibly dangerous, as it was for a recent group of migrants who were returned to Venezuela through the Dominican Republic. As reported by Telemundo, upon arrival to Venezuela, the group was interrogated, beaten, and abused by Venezuelan authorities, leaving one of them in a neck brace. The group has now found a way to return to the U.S. and is applying for asylum a second time.
“It really does impact that person to be removed through one of these processes,” Kizuka said. “If they need to come back like that young man who was sent back through the [Dominican Republic], then they’re in a much more difficult position to seek protection the second time.”
According to a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security, this particular group was deported to the Dominican Republic under Title 8, which says individuals may be subject to removal after a negative credible fear determination by an immigration judge. Title 8 removals also apply to people who are not covered by Deferred Enforced Departure or Temporary Protected Status. But, credible fear hearings are not always reliable.
Review of recent immigration court hearing data shows that between fiscal year 2018 and fiscal year 2021, immigration judges affirmed on average 72.4% of negative credible fear determinations, some from countries where asylum-seekers could be granted refugee protection, such as Haiti, Cuba, and Venezuela. There are severe issues with immigration court reviews of negative credible fear determinations. Credible fear reviews are often scheduled within 24 hours, giving asylum-seekers virtually no time to consult a lawyer or prepare, and many feature interpreters who lose vital information in translation.
Piccardo Chacon, the founding member of Doral Democrats, a predominantly Venezuelan enclave in Miami, says she is disappointed and disheartened that the Biden administration would continue Trump’s deportations through third countries.
“I’m a proud liberal, and I voted for Joe Biden, but I can’t in good conscience also support policies that close the door behind me and to legitimate asylum claims no less,” Piccardo Chacon said.
In February 2021, Biden ended the Trump-era so-called “Asylum Cooperative Agreements” with Central American governments that facilitated the deportation of asylum-seekers to three different countries where they could process their asylum claims remotely. Critics said the agreement put asylum-seekers in dangerous environments in countries grappling with their own poverty and violence. Now that Biden has begun deporting Venezuelans through Colombia as a third country, without a public announcement, publishing, or formal rule, Human Rights First says it “impedes people’s ability to seek protection in the United States”
“These agreements are meant to be negotiated openly and formally published. There should be an understanding of what the process is,” Kizuka said. “The Biden administration is essentially engaging in secret negotiations.”
The Biden administration has also recently pressured the Mexican government to implement new requirements that Venezuelans obtain a visa to travel to Mexico. Prior, they did not need a visa. According to data from U.S. Customs Border Protection, in fiscal year 2021, there were more than 50,000 arrests of Venezuelans at the border, over 10 times more than the previous year.
Immigration advocates hope the Biden administration will be transparent about their decisions regarding deportation, end the use of Title 42, and reinstate asylum processing along the border, including at ports of entry, which is required under U.S. law and is needed to prevent the illegal return of people to potential danger whether in their home countries or a third.