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New Biden program grants legal pathway to U.S. for thousands of Venezuelan migrants

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Jenny Villamizar and her 3-year-old son, Santiago, sit inside a sports complex turned into a makeshift shelter in Mexico.

Venezuelan Jenny Villamizar and her 3-year-old son, Santiago, who are part of a migrant caravan, sit inside a sports complex turned into a makeshift shelter, in Huixtla, Chiapas state, Mexico, on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. The mother and son are part of an extended family of 18, including eight children, who traveled from Venezuela to Mexico’s southern border in 15 days. Venezuelans make up a large proportion of this caravan, the biggest of the year, in contrast to others in previous years.

Marco Ugarte, Associated Press

The Biden administration announced a joint agreement with Mexico on Wednesday that overhauls how the U.S. accepts migrants from Venezuela, giving humanitarian parole to 24,000 while taking a hard-line approach to those who attempt to enter the country unlawfully.

It’s similar in theory to Biden’s “Uniting for Ukraine” program, though much smaller in scope.

Anyone from Venezuela can apply for the program, which will grant them humanitarian parole — however, like the policy for Ukrainians, they need a sponsor in the U.S. who can provide financial support.

The plan seeks to dissuade Venezuelans from making the long and dangerous trek across Central America and Mexico to the southern border in hopes of seeking asylum. Instead, they can apply for the program remotely then fly to the U.S., presumably from a neighboring country, as there are currently no flights from Venezuela to the U.S. out of safety concerns.

But Venezuelans who attempt to cross the border in between ports of entry will be deported back to Mexico under Title 42, a public health policy enacted by the Trump administration that waives migrants’ right to seek asylum in the name of public health.

They will also be ineligible for the program in the future, as are Venezuelan migrants who unlawfully entered Panama or Mexico, or were expelled from the U.S. in the last five years. The policy took effect Wednesday.

The Biden administration previously sought to repeal Title 42, though a judge issued a restraining order in May keeping the law in place. Now, the administration’s policy relies on the controversial law.

The program hinges on an agreement with Mexico, which prior to Wednesday had only agreed to take migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who were denied entry under Title 42.

Migrants from Venezuela, however, were rarely expelled under Title 42 — in the roughly 2.3 million times it’s been applied, less than 2,500 Venezuelans were expelled, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data.

That’s despite Venezuelans becoming the second largest demographic trying to enter the U.S. through its border with Mexico. Instead of being expelled, most were processed, then released into the U.S. temporarily where they often then applied for asylum in immigration court.

In August, officials reported over 25,000 encounters with Venezuelan migrants along the southern border, the most of any country except Mexico. Economic turmoil has rocked the country for much of the last decade, with nearly 7 million Venezuelans leaving the country since 2013, according to the United Nations.

“These actions make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and lawful entry is the only way,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news release. “... Those who follow the lawful process will have the opportunity to travel safely to the United States and become eligible to work here.”

The policy was met with mixed reviews from immigration advocates, many of whom support the sponsor-based approach, but have long called for the repeal of Title 42.

“The right to apply for asylum at the border — including between ports of entry and ‘irrespective of status’ — is explicitly enshrined in our immigration laws,” said Danilo Zak with the National Immigration Forum in a statement. “More processing at ports is good, but this new policy for Venezuelans (and Title 42 in general) infringes upon that right.”