The decrease in crossings is significant because Venezuelan migrants surpassed Mexican migrants in September to make up the largest share of unlawful entries, and the strain on U.S. cities has exacerbated tensions between some Democratic leaders and the White House. Last month 54,833 Venezuelan migrants were taken into custody for crossing the southern border illegally, an all-time high.
Biden officials have defended their decision to begin deporting Venezuelans despite a recent State Department report listing 34 significant human rights issues including unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearances, and torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment by security forces.
Biden has significantly expanded opportunities for Venezuelans to seek refuge and opportunity in the United States by allowing thousands to enter each month by applying through a U.S. sponsor or by seeking an appointment at a border crossing using a government mobile app.
“While we won’t comment on preliminary data, we have said all along that a combination of lawful pathways and strengthened consequences works and keeps migrants from putting their lives in the hands of smugglers,” Kristie Canegallo, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting deputy secretary, said in a statement to The Post on Wednesday.
CBP data from August and September show many Venezuelan migrants did not heed Biden officials’ exhortations to apply for legal entry and wait patiently. Riding freight trains north through Mexico with children and pets, they streamed across the U.S. border to places such as El Paso and Eagle Pass, Tex.
The late-summer surge presented a major challenge to the border management strategy promoted by the Biden administration, which offers expanded opportunities for legal entry and work permits while threatening stiffer consequences for those who cross illegally. U.S. officials announced the start of deportation flights to Venezuela this month as part of a broader package of measures that included eased economic sanctions on the autocratic government of President Nicolás Maduro.
“For the first time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is able to repatriate Venezuelan nationals back to their home country for those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the United States,” Patrick J. Lechleitner, the acting ICE director of ICE, said in a statement. “This is a tremendous step forward in the agency’s ability to strengthen consequences for migrants who cross our border unlawfully.”
ICE officials returned 127 Venezuelan adults on Oct. 18 and another 111 on Monday, according to a report in Venezuelan state media showing a room of shackled men arriving to the Caracas international airport. ICE intends to send two to three planeloads of deportees back to Venezuela per week, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe operational plans.
Immigration advocates have denounced the deportations as “shameful” and “dehumanizing,” noting that the flights were announced two weeks after Biden designated more than 470,000 Venezuelans for temporary legal status in the United States, making them eligible for work permits, on the basis that returning them to their homeland would be unsafe. More than 7 million Venezuelans have fled their country over the past decade, creating the world’s largest displaced population, according to the United Nations.
Biden’s temporary protected status designation is only available to Venezuelans who arrived to the United States before Aug. 1. Administration officials describe the deportation flights as a tool to steer Venezuelans back into compliance with a border management strategy that aims to deter illegal crossings by incentivizing migrants to seek safe, legal entry.
Overall the number of illegal crossings along the southern border so far in October is on pace for a decline of about 15 percent from the 218,763 tallied in September, the busiest month this year. Mexican migrants account once again for the largest share of illegal crossings in October, the preliminary data show.
The decrease in Venezuelans crossing the southern border has not produced a corresponding drop in the number of migrants seeking shelter and assistance in New York. One city official attributed this to a high level of “secondary” migration by Venezuelans from other cities in the United States. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly and share general impressions.
Sudden changes in U.S. immigration enforcement often produce changes to migration patterns that prove fleeting, analysts say. And increases in deportations of adults are often followed by higher numbers of migrant family arrivals because parents arriving with children are generally able to avoid detention and rapid deportation.
Two key pillars of the Biden administration’s approach to Venezuela migration are at risk, starting with the president’s expanded “legal pathways.”
More than 120,000 Venezuelans have been processed for U.S. entry at border crossings and U.S. airports in 2023, CBP data show. That number includes Venezuelans who make appointments using the CBP One mobile app as well as those made eligible for temporary work permits under Biden’s use of an executive authority known as parole.
Since January, Biden officials have allowed 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela per month to arrive via flights if they apply through a sponsor in the United States. Republican state officials are suing to block the program.
U.S. District Court Judge Drew Tipton, a Trump appointee, is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks on whether Biden’s use of parole for the four countries is lawful. A halt to that program would block one of the two avenues Biden officials have created to steer migrants toward lawful entries.
Venezuela’s tumultuous politics are another wild card.
Biden officials insist the agreement to ease economic sanctions on the Maduro government is reversible and contingent on his willingness to allow competitive democratic elections next year. Venezuela’s opposition this week nominated a longtime Maduro foe, María Corina Machado, to run against him. But the Venezuelan government has previously declared her ineligible to run, and if the deal to ease sanctions falls apart, Maduro could halt the U.S. deportation flights.