The U.S. government has given more than 6,800 Venezuelans permission to fly to the U.S. legally, and admitted several hundred of them, under a sponsorship initiative the Biden administration set up in October to manage a record number of Venezuelan migrants arriving along the southern border, officials said Thursday.
Since the program launched on Oct. 18, approximately 490 Venezuleans have arrived in the U.S. under the humanitarian parole authority, which allows them to live and work in the country legally for at least two years, according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials.
The program, currently capped at 24,000 arrivals, allows U.S.-based individuals who are willing and able to financially sponsor someone from Venezuela to file an application on their behalf. Venezuleans who have entered Panama, Mexico or the U.S. unlawfully after Oct. 18 are not eligible to come to the U.S. under the policy.
The sponsorship initiative, which was modeled after another immigration parole program that has allowedwith U.S. sponsors to enter the country, was last month as part of a strategy to respond to the unprecedented number of Venezuelans entering U.S. border custody.
In fiscal year 2022, which ended on Sept. 30, U.S. authorities along the Mexican border processed roughly 188,000 Venezuelans, allowing the vast majority of them to seek asylum inside the U.S. since Venezuela’s authoritarian government has generally rejected U.S. deportations, government statistics show.
But after reaching a deal with the Mexican government in mid-October, U.S. border officials began expelling Venezuelans who entered the country illegally to Mexico under a public health authority, known as Title 42, that was first invoked by the Trump administration at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At least 6,311 Venezuelans have been expelled to Mexico since the Oct. 12 announcement, according to unofficial data compiled by officials from the United Nations and the International Organization for Migration through secondary sources.
The change in policy immediately led to a sharp decrease in illegal border crossings by Venezuelans. On Thursday, DHS officials said the U.S. is recording an average of 300 illegal entries by Venezuelans along the southern border per day, down from the 1,100 daily average before the new policies were announced.
The Panamanian government has also reported a dramatic drop in the number of Venezuelan migrants crossing the Darién Gap, a mountainous jungle near the Panama-Colombia border that tens of thousands of Venezuelans have traversed on foot over the past year before criss-crossing Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S.
“The initial data shows that when there is a lawful and orderly way, people are less inclined to put lives in the hands of smugglers,” DHS said in a statement.
The data released Thursday show 28% of the 24,000 spots allocated for Venezuelan migrants under the sponsorship program have already been selected, a sign that the cap could be reached within a matter of weeks. Biden administration officials have said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas could raise the program’s ceiling if he makes a determination the move is justified.
While the new policies for migrants from Venezuela have so far led to a significant and sustained reduction in Venezuelans entering the U.S. illegally, they do not apply to migrants from other countries, such as Cuba and Nicaragua, who have also traveled to the U.S. southern border in record numbers over the past year.
U.S. border officials stopped migrants nearly 2.4 million times in fiscal year 2022, the highest tally ever recorded. More than 1 million of those border encounters resulted in migrants being expelled from the U.S. under Title 42. The tally also includes a significant number of repeat crossings among migrants expelled to Mexico.
tWhile the Biden administration has received some praise for creating a legal path for certain Venezuelans to enter the U.S., advocates for migrants have condemned the use of the Title 42 public health order to expel Venezuelans without allowing them to request asylum, a right migrants on American soil have under U.S. law.
The Biden administration attempted to terminate Title 42 earlier this year, but was blocked from doing so by a Republican-led lawsuit in federal court. For over a year, however, the Biden administration relied on the Trump-era argument that Title 42 was necessary to contain COVID-19 along the southern border.
“There is no scientific evidence to suggest arriving Venezuelan nationals pose a unique threat to public health greater than any other individuals or groups,” dozens of public health experts said in a letter to President Biden and other administration officials this week.
The arrival of tens of thousands of migrants from Venezuela to the U.S. -Mexico border is part of an exodus of millions of Venezuelans who have fled economic collapse and authoritarian rule in Venezuela under socialist president Nicolás Maduro. Over 7 million Venezuelans have left their homeland, the largest refugee crises recorded in the Americas, according to the United Nations.