MEXICO CITY (AP) — Border crossings by Venezuelans fleeing to the United States from their South American country have collapsed in the first week of a U.S. policy of deporting them to Mexico without a chance to seek asylum, officials said Friday Americans and Mexicans.
Biden administration officials said about 150 Venezuelans cross the border from Mexico daily, down from about 1,200 before the policy was announced on Oct. 12.
Arturo Rocha, a senior official at Mexico’s Department of Foreign Relations, said separately that Venezuelans entering the U.S. had dropped by 90 percent, roughly in line with U.S. government figures. He said the number of Venezuelans crossing the dangerous Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama on the most popular route to the United States has dropped by 80 percent.
The Panamanian government reported on Friday that 435 Venezuelan migrants have returned to their homeland of Panama since the US announced the new rules. Another 200 Venezuelans are expected to return on Saturday on charter flights arranged by the Venezuelan consulate.
Biden administration officials said Venezuelans are generally being deported under a public health rule known as Title 42, which suspends rights to seek asylum under U.S. and international law on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The White House expanded the policy to deport Venezuelans to Mexico, despite an effort earlier this year to end Title 42, which remained in place under a court ruling.
Under the new rules, the US says it will accept up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants at US airports if they first apply online with a financial sponsor. They will be admitted on humanitarian parole in an effort similar to how tens of thousands of Ukrainians have entered the United States since the Russian invasion.
Rocha wrote in a newspaper column that the U.S. has received about 7,500 Venezuelan parole applications. US officials declined to confirm that number in a conference call with reporters, but said there was significant interest and that flights would begin soon.
Although barely a week old, the crackdown on Venezuelans had an immediate impact on what had become a serious challenge for the Biden administration. Venezuelans were the second largest nationality to cross the Mexican border illegally in August, with another spike in September to more than 33,000.
Many Venezuelans who were heading to the US when the new rules were announced are now in Mexico, unsure of what to do next.
Mexican officials discussed the first results of the effort at joint exercises with Guatemala on migration control.
Even as the official event unfolded, migrants continued to cross the Suchiate River between the two countries on inner-tube rafts, but most surrendered to Mexican agents.
Until now, Mexico had given Venezuelans and other immigrants short-term transit permits that allowed them to reach a town further into Mexico, San Pedro Tapanatepec, where they could wait for more formal visas.
Thousands of migrants gathered in San Pedro Tapanatepec awaiting those documents, which many previously used to continue to the US border.
But on Friday, Héctor Martínez Castuera, director of coordination for Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, said visas would no longer be issued in San Pedro Tapanatepec. Instead, Mexican authorities set up a migrant shelter to deal with all those waiting there.
“We have set up a shelter there, a big shelter to deal with migrants, but at the moment we are not giving out any immigration forms,” he said.
Martínez Castuera said the migrants could try to get papers to stay in Mexico or return to Venezuela. He said Mexico could help some return, as “many Venezuelans” want, but that the issue was complicated.
Spagat reported from San Diego.