WASHINGTON (CN) — Setting up to expand a Trump-era pandemic rule that it fought to end only months earlier, the Biden administration announced this week that the United States will invoke Title 42 authority against Venezuelans who walk or swim across the border.
Title 42 suspends asylum-seeking rights on grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19 and has been used 2.3 million times since March 2020 but applied only 2,453 times on Venezuelans. Other than its own people, the Mexican government had previously agreed to accept migrants expelled under Title 42 only if they are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Venezuelans caught entering the U.S. illegally meanwhile were being screened and released to await immigration court proceedings.
Migration from Venezuela has been on a yearslong upswing. Since August, Venezuelans have become the second largest nationality arriving at the U.S. border, displacing the people of Guatemala and Honduras. Mexicans remain first in this list.
Some 33,000 Venezuelans crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in September alone, but the plan unveiled Wednesday by the U.S. Departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security offers respite here for 24,000 Venezuelan nationals who arrive at a U.S. airport.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the program being styled as humanitarian parole aims to create a more orderly and safe process for those fleeing the humanitarian and economic crisis in Venezuela. Applicants can begin the process online but they must pass certain screening tests to qualify. One hurdle requires that the applicants be sponsored by someone residing in the U.S. who can support them for at least two years.
Speaking a joint press conference at the State Department headquarters in Washington, Mayorkas dodged a reporter's question about why the number is capped at 24,000.
He said the program stems from the Biden administration's principle that it is the responsibility of the U.S. to create lawful immigration pathways for those “so desperate to leave the country that is their home.”
“The number that we announced yesterday is based on that core foundation that people will not take that dangerous journey, only to fail, to not succeed in reaching their ultimate destination,” Mayorkas said, “but rather will take the humane, safe and orderly pathway to a better life.”
The parole program for Venezuelans is modeled after one that the Biden administration made available earlier this year to Ukrainians fleeing the war started in their country this year by Russian President Vladimir Putin. That program has no cap, however, and the U.S. has accepted more than 100,000 Ukrainians seeking asylum.
While the number of displaced people is at an “all-time high” worldwide, Mayorkas said, he noted that Venezuela has seen the exodus of almost 8 million people over the last decade, a little less than a third of its estimated 28 million population.
The announcement comes as Republicans put pressure on the Biden administration about waves of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with less than a month to go before the midterm elections on Nov. 8.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, joined that chorus only hours before the announcement of the new border program
Responding to the 18,600 asylum seekers who have been bussed from the border to New York City in the last few months, Hochul told reporters that the federal government needs to “take ownership” of the uptick in illegal migration.
“We really are looking for a federal response to this — to take ownership of a crisis, and we’ll be there to help, but this belongs to the federal government,” Hochul said according to the New York Post. “We want the federal government to see that this is a humanitarian crisis.”
Congressman Andrew Garbarino, a Republican from Long Island, appeared Thursday on Fox Business to discuss the government's new plan.
“This is a policy Republicans have said for two years has worked,” he said. “I guess now … the Biden administration is finally agreeing with Republicans.”
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