US Democrats Urge Biden to Lift ‘Failed’ Sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela

US representatives said there are “strong moral grounds” for eliminating sanctions against both countries for causing “widespread suffering” and driving migration.


Caracas, May 11, 2023 ( – A group of 21 US Democratic members of Congress penned a letter urging President Joe Biden to lift sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela in order to stop increased migration to US borders.

“In light of [sanctions] grave humanitarian toll on the peoples of those countries, and the significant logistical challenges that the resulting increase in migration is causing for federal, state, and local authorities, we urge you to act swiftly to lift the failed and indiscriminate economic sanctions that were imposed by the prior administration,” read the letter published on Wednesday.

The border states representatives stressed that migration numbers have reached levels not seen for at least two decades and that arrivals of migrants and asylum seekers from Cuba and Venezuela are expected to increase sharply with the expiration of the COVID-era Title 42. The public health order allowed officials to expel migrants at US land borders, sending them back to their home countries or returning them to Mexico. According to data from US Customs and Border Protection, over 2.8 million migrants were expelled since its implementation in early 2020.

Despite the expiration of Title 42 on May 11, Mexican officials have announced that they will continue to accept migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela who are turned away at the border. For its part, Washington plans to ramp up deportations but will extend the parole program created this year to provide legal entry to eligible migrants.

On Wednesday, US Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned migrants against crossing into the US, claiming there will be “tougher consequences for people who cross illegally.”

In their letter, the House Democrats argued that the temporary parole program does not address the migration issue and requested US authorities show “compassion towards migrants” and uphold asylum obligations. They noted that some 189,000 Venezuelans crossed US borders in 2022, up from roughly 4,500 registered in 2020, while 55,000 Venezuelans have trekked through the Darien Gap this year on their way north.

“Migrants continue to leave their home countries because of instability and dire economic uncertainty,” stressed the signatories. They urged Biden to “focus on the root causes” of the crises in Cuba and Venezuela “and reverse callous and counterproductive [US] policies” that have served as push factors for migration waves.

Furthermore, the representatives stated that besides preventing a spike in border crossings there are also “strong moral grounds” for eliminating coercive measures, recalling that Cuba and Venezuela have seen “widespread suffering” after former President Trump ramped up sanctions programs against both nations leading to economic hardships.

In Venezuela’s case, the letter highlighted that the measures had caused issues in access to food, basic services, and healthcare and that they “ultimately contributed to tens of thousands of deaths.”

“You [President Biden] have a historic opportunity to help mitigate economic push factors driving migration […] while reorienting US policy in the hemisphere towards a more holistic approach that eschews destructive sanctions policies,” concluded the letter.

The missive, led by representatives Veronica Escobar (TX-16) and Raul Grijalva (AZ-7), was co-signed by Greg Casar (TX-35), Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), J. Luis Correa (CA-46), Jesus ‘Chuy’ Garcia (IL-4), Yvette Clarke (NY-9), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Juan Vargas (CA-52), David Trone (MD-6), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9), Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Nydia Velazquez (NY-7), Delia Ramirez (IL-3), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Andre Carson (IN-7), and Cori Bush (MO-1).

Three similar addresses have been issued by US House Democrats since 2021, with the last one penned in January by US Democratic representative and chair of the House Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, requesting urgent sanctions relief for Venezuela. The Biden administration has left them all unanswered.

This last call from inside Washington to eliminate sanctions follows the killing of eight people, several of them Venezuelan nationals, in Brownsville, Texas on Sunday. 

According to the United Nations (UN), 7.1 million Venezuelans have migrated since 2015 as the country undergoes a dire economic situation heavily caused by wide-reaching US sanctions. The former Trump administration levied financial sanctions against state oil company PDVSA in 2017 followed by a full-fledged oil embargo in 2019, crippling the country’s main source of revenue.

Besides the oil industry, the measures have targeted virtually all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including mining, banking, and international trade. Biden has kept all sanctions in place with the sole exception of the licenses granted to Chevron, Eni and Repsol to take Venezuelan oil as compensation for debts owed by Caracas.

For years, multilateral organizations and human rights experts have condemned sanctions against Venezuela for their humanitarian consequences, including a nutrition and health crisis, classifying them as “collective punishment.”