Venezuelans flock to the United States, fleeing domestic difficulties and prejudiced abroad

File Photo: A family of asylum-seeking immigrants from Venezuela arrives on the coast on May 26, 2021 after arriving in the United States across the Rio Grande River from Mexico in Del Rio, Texas, USA. REUTERS / Go Nakamura / File Photo

July 14, 2021

Sarah Kinocian and Alexandra Ulmer

Caracas / San Francisco (Reuters) – One of the movements to leave President Nicolas Maduro when Antonio participated in an anti-government demonstration in Venezuela five years ago and protested daily power outages and long lines of food. I wanted to be a club.

Instead, Maduro remained in power, and Antonio suffered years of intimidation and blackmail from police in retaliation, he said. In April, after his sixth attempted extortion, he joined the rise of Venezuelans moving north to the United States.

“I had to leave after years of murder threats and constant horror,” Antonio said on the phone from his brother’s house in Miami, Florida, threatening his Venezuelan family. I asked him not to use his real name because he was afraid that he might be killed. “It also made it harder and harder to get food. My parents were suffering, especially with constant (electrical) power outages, and you reached the limit.”

A record number of Venezuelans have been trying to cross the US-Mexico border in recent months, some of which have been facilitated by a rapidly adapting smuggling network.

Driven out of their hometown by a serious economic crisis and what many describe as political repression, they often initially settled elsewhere in Latin America. However, as the coronavirus pandemic has increased economic instability in the region and the resentment of Venezuelan immigrants, some have decided to try their luck in the United States instead.

Over the past eight months, more than 17,000 Venezuelans have arrived at the southern border of the United States, according to data from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This is more than the total for the last 14 years. Many want to claim asylum.

It forms a small but growing part of the 900,000 immigrants arrested or expelled by US authorities on the southern border since October. Most of them are from Central America or Mexico.

Antonio says he crossed the US border in May after paying smugglers $ 4,000 in travel and handling fees. He raised money, a property of Venezuela, with the help of families in other countries.

Antonio took a bus to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, from there to Cancun, a resort town in Mexico. A Venezuelan smuggler from Maracaibo, Antonio’s hometown, helped him pass through Mexican authorities.

In Mexicali, he paid a smuggler $ 800 to ferry to Arizona, where he was sent to the border guard, detained in an immigration detention center for six weeks, and then released to wait for an asylum hearing. ..

“Currently, there are a lot of Venezuelans at border crossings, but there are also a lot of Venezuelan smugglers, so it wasn’t hard to find,” Antonio said.

Reuters was unable to validate Antonio’s account on its own.

Venezuelan diaspora

Since 2013, when Maduro took office, more than 6 million Venezuelans have fled the economic crisis, resulting in a chronic shortage of gasoline, water and medicine. Protests in 2014 and 2017 also led to a backlash against recognized enemies by the authorities.

The majority of Venezuelan immigrants have resettled in neighboring countries such as Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Mexico.

However, thousands of people are heading to the United States after the coronavirus-related blockade has crippled the economies of these countries. Often after smugglers and other people give false information about what is waiting there.

In March, US President Joe Biden announced -Granted turmoil-id USKBN2B02H9 Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States. This will give you access to a work visa and relief from deportation.

The bill will only benefit Venezuelans in the United States as of March 8.

However, immigration experts say it can be one of several factors that cause confusion about who this decision applies to and promote immigration.

Maria Antonietta Diaz, president of the Florida-based Venezuelan American Alliance, believes that her office will qualify for TPS if her office arrives from Venezuelans last month by August in early July. He said he received the message.

“There is incorrect information,” she said. There was also “a false expectation that somehow they could seek asylum and it would be very easy”.

In a half-dozen Instagram audio recordings and posts reviewed by Reuters, people claimed to provide “guide services” to Venezuelans trying to reach the United States.

“Here in the United States, there was news that Joe Biden allowed 500 Venezuelan citizens to cross the border illegally,” posted on the Instagram account of Venezuelan blogger Sergio Vitanza Belgrave on May 18. One audio recording states. Enter the country and receive a TPS, work permit and humanitarian asylum. “

Vitanza, who lives in Chile and has more than 12,000 followers, posted a recording to Reuters from “friends,” and “many people” told Reuters that his post helped them reach the United States. He said.

Brian Fincheltab, the consulate director of the Venezuelan embassy run by the opposition in Washington, said the smuggling network was expanding from Venezuela, some using desperate Venezuelans.

Usually even people who shuttle clients from Central America are getting some of the new business.

El Salvador smuggler Antonio said in early July that he had acquired more Venezuelan customers than ever in the last five months. He charges $ 3,000 from southern Mexico to take them to the US border, where he directs them to leave to a US border agent to demand asylum.

He charges $ 14,000 for more complex and illegal crossings to southern Texas.

“When we get to northern Mexico, tell them not to talk, because the cartels I handle handle more charges for Venezuelans,” he told Reuters on the phone. .. “They tend to have more money (than Central American immigrants), or at least have families who have money if they go to the United States.”

Another move

Some Venezuelans have made multiple moves in search of a better life.

Miguel Sanchez, a 39-year-old oil engineer from Puerto Ordaz, a city in eastern Venezuela, said he fled to Colombia in 2016 after being fired from a job that voted against him.

After realizing that Panama was better paid, he moved to Panama City, where he met another Venezuelan boyfriend.

However, they say they decided to try the United States after undocumented Venezuelans salaries fell during the pandemic and couples were targeted by xenophobic and homophobic attacks.

Last month they flew from Panama to Cancun. Cancun told Reuters that Venezuelan migrants have a reputation for being less strict in border control than Mexico City. The Mexican Immigration Bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

The couple are currently in Reynosa, a northern city across the border of McAllen, Texas, waiting to apply for asylum at a shelter.

“Everyone wants to go to the United States for some stability because the Latin American economy has been hit,” Sanchez said.

(Reported by Sarah Kinosian of Caracas, Alexandra Ulmer of San Francisco, Mariella Nava of Maracaibo, edited by Rosalva O’Brien)

Venezuelans flock to the United States, fleeing domestic difficulties and prejudiced abroad

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zuelans flock to the United States, fleeing domestic difficulties and prejudiced abroad