Colombian Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez said that although there had been talks about Washington’s intention to send back Venezuelans who previously resided in Colombia, she was caught unaware of the new policy that expels them without a chance to seek asylum in the US.
“We don’t have any information or an express request about [the new US policy],” Ramírez told local media.
However, the US Department of Homeland Security claimed it acted after discussions with the Colombian government.
The Associated Press reported that Homeland Security said it would expel Venezuelans to Colombia “on a regular basis” but would be limited to those who had previously resided in Colombia.
Efforts to send away Venezuelans looking to cross its borders stands in contrast to US policy regarding Venezuela. In March of 2021, US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status, allowing eligible Venezuelan nationals already present in the US to remain in the country.
In December, US authorities reported that it had encountered Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border nearly 25,000 times, making them the second largest group after Mexicans.
Venezuelan migration has been a constant feature in foreign policy debates and also a source of controversy. In June 2021 the US, together with Canadian and Spanish governments alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, organized an “International Donor Conference” for Venezuelan migrants and refugees that Caracas called a “media farce” to promote a “highly profitable political propaganda” as part of a “strict US script” and “regime change agenda.”
The Biden administration, which has maintained the Trump-era policies aimed at ousting the Nicolás Maduro government, has likewise been steadfast in its support for the “interim presidency” of Juan Guaidó. Despite support dwindling to a handful of countries, the recognition of Guaidó by the US and its allies has prevented the Maduro administration from accessing the country’s foreign assets.
US unilateral coercive measures have played a significant role in Venezuela’s years-long economic crisis, and is considered one of the major forces driving migration. According to UN figures, over five million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015.
Despite promises by the Biden administration to respect the right to seek asylum, Washington has been systematically denying migrants that right by invoking Title 42, a provision provided by a 1944 law that allows the government to limit travel under the pretext of mitigating the spread of the communicable disease. Implemented in March 2020 by former President Trump during the Covid-19 pandemic, Biden has kept the policy in place.
Human rights organizations have repeatedly called on the White House to cease its use of the measure to expel migrants. US government data indicates that from February to August 2021, Title 42 was used to expel over half of adult migrants crossing the US-Mexico border.
“The continued weaponization of the pandemic to expel people from our border will result in serious harm for the thousands who have been denied protection … There is simply no way around it – Title 42 must end, and every day the Biden Administration fights to uphold it, they choose xenophobia and racism over protecting human rights,” said Amy Fischer, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA in a press release last year.
Venezuelan migrants face significant challenges abroad. A group of Venezuelans in Chile were attacked on Sunday in the northern town of Iquique, with their possessions destroyed by demonstrators, in retaliation over an alleged assault on Chilean police by migrants who were seeking to avoid detention.
Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric, who previously used the migration of Venezuelans to criticize Caracas, condemned the violence and pledged more support to improve police “efficiency”.
After an attack on migrants in Chile in October, the Maduro government ordered the “Return to the Homeland” plan that facilitates repatriation to be activated and offer citizens the chance to return to the Caribbean nation. Venezuelan authorities called on their Chilean counterparts to protect Venezuelans who regularly face xenophobia and discriminatory attitudes throughout the region.
Elsewhere, Venezuelan migrants said they have also opted to return to their homeland after encountering economic challenges in Argentina.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.