Thousands of Venezuelans crossed the southern border during June; according to recent CBP data, 13,194 Venezuelans were encountered by federal authorities last month. The uptick of Venezuelan migrants in June represents the highest number of Venezuelans crossing the border since January 2022, when more than 22,779 Venezuelans crossed the southern border to escape the humanitarian crisis in their home country.
The latest data shows that the migratory flow in June doubled that of May when federal agents processed only 5,089 Venezuelans after crossing the border through the Rio Grande. The information highlighting the growing number of Venezuelans crossing the frame matches the reports by journalists and advocates warning of scores of Venezuelans making the treacherous travel through the Darien gap—an inhospitable jungle on the border between Panamá and Colombia—where many migrants have died as a result of the dangerous journey.
The numbers also show that the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is a thorny issue not only for the neighboring countries of Venezuela but also for the United States. Last Fiscal Year, more than 48,000 Venezuelans crossed the border and were processed by Border Patrol, a substantial increase from the less than 3,000 Venezuelans who did the same during FY2019. The volume of Venezuelan migration has ballooned even higher during the current Fiscal Year, with CBP reporting 110,901 encounters with Venezuelans on the Southern border. There are still three months left of FY2022.
Whether President Biden likes it or not, the Venezuelan migrant crisis has now reached America, and he will have to handle the consequences of one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
The disorganized response to the Venezuelan Migrant Crisis
As a result of the ongoing humanitarian crisis that Venezuelans have been suffering over the last years, millions of Venezuelans have left the country, with UNHCR reporting that an entire fifth of the population (6 million people) have fled the South American nation since 2017. To put these numbers into context, this would be the equivalent of 66 million Americans leaving the United States in six years.
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It is no surprise that Venezuelans have topped the lists of Asylum seekers since 2018. More than 20,000 Venezuelans per year have made an affirmative asylum request in the United States in 2018, 2019, and 2020—usually composing a quarter of the total asylum requests in the country. The year 2022 is no different in this aspect than previous years—as Venezuela remained the top country on Affirmative asylum filings in the first quarter of FY2022—with 7419 Venezuelans requesting asylum between October-December 2021.
The Biden White House has trumpeted its policy towards Venezuelan migrants as one marked in solidarity and humanitarian support. The Democrats have cited the decision to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans as their landmark policy in their efforts to aid the Venezuelan refugees. TPS gives legal protections and works permits to approximately 200,000 applicants who were in the country before March 2021; the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decided last week to renew the license for another 18 months.
However, Biden’s response to the Venezuelan migrant crisis has been more lukewarm than the headlines suggest. While DHS renewed TPS, it decided not to approve a redesignation of the TPS date so the protection status could include more than 130,000 Venezuelans who have arrived in the United States after March 2021. This decision means that the dozens of thousands of Venezuelans who have crossed the border over the last few months will not have legal protection or work permit as those who were in the U.S. before March.
Although the Biden White House has trumpeted TPS as the pillar of its support to the Venezuelans, the administration’s actions have been less decisive than its words. Despite giving TPS and renewing it, USCIS has a significant backlog in processing TPS requests. According to USCIS data, out of the 216,659 TPS received until the second quarter of FY2022, a vast majority of them (181,520) is still pending and awaiting an official response by USCIS. This means that only 13% of Venezuelans who are eligible and have applied to TPS have enjoyed the benefits from it, while 87% are in legal limbo due to the USCIS backlog.
Furthermore, the Biden White House reportedly pressured the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to impose strict visas on Venezuelans to reduce the number of Venezuelans crossing the southern border to the United States. Mexico accepted American demands and introduced a new visa system for Venezuelans earlier this year.
The scheme reduced the number of Venezuelans for most of 2022, and the numbers cratered from 22,779 encounters in December to 3,073 in February. However, it appears that the success was temporary as the numbers have again risen dramatically in a couple of months, as Venezuelans decide to make the long and treacherous land trip through Central America to reach the United States.
Like many regional leaders, Biden is facing the humanitarian consequences of the Venezuelan collapse. Until now, his response has been an inconsistent mix of legal protections that are not processed fast enough by the federal bureaucracy or pressuring Mexico to prevent Venezuelans get to the border.