The increase in Venezuelan migration is being felt across the US.
It took Nerio two months and everything he had to do to get from Venezuela to the United States, traveling mostly on foot and watching other exhausted migrants get mugged or left to die.
Like an increasing number of Venezuelans, Nerio set out on a perilous journey that included traveling through the notorious jungles of Panama, the Darien Gap and Mexico, where migrants often face extortion and threats from government officials, in hopes of a better life in the US.
“We know that no one wants us to make it here,” Nerio said last month in Eagle Pass,Texas, a city of 30,000 that is at the center of the surge in Venezuelan migrants to the US He asked that his last name not be published due to fears for his safety.
Last month, Venezuelans overtook Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality apprehended at the US border after Mexicans. Nerio, who traveled with about a dozen people fleeing poverty and violence in Venezuela, was among them.
Venezuelans were detained 25,349 times, 43% more than the 17,652 in July and four times the 6,301 encounters in August 2021, authorities said Monday, which indicates a remarkably sudden demographic change.
An estimated 6.8 million Venezuelans have fled their country since the economy collapsed in 2014, mainly to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the relative strength of the US economy since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Venezuelan migrants to look north. Additionally, US policies and strained relations with the Venezuelan government make it extremely difficult to send them home.
Word has spread in Venezuela as more relatives and neighbors arrive in Texas and are released with notices to appear in immigration court or in humanitarian parole.
“We hope that in a few years the problems in Venezuela will be solved so that we can return to our country of origin, but until then we have to be migrants and endure what this trip will mean for us,” Nerio said.
The impact is reflected in the daily headlines. Some 50 migrants that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis brought last week to the luxurious island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts were Venezuelan, as were five of the six men U.S. authorities found drowned in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in early September.
Jose, who asked to be identified only by his middle name out of concern for his safety, was on one of DeSantis’ two flights. He walked nearly three months before crossing the Rio Grande on an inflatable raft and turning himself in to Border Patrol.
While staying at a migrant shelter in San Antonio, José met a woman who promised him at least three months of housing, work, medical care and free legal help. He told the migrants they would go to Washington, Chicago and other immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities.
“We imagined that she was a very important person, that she had a lot of influence and that she could really help us,” said José, who needed to get to Philadelphia for the required paperwork with immigration authorities at the end of September. “We believed in her. The ignorance of the immigrant.
Yet when they arrived at Martha’s Vineyard, an enclave known as former President Barack Obama’s summer vacation spot, “nobody was waiting for us, nobody knew who we were,” José, 27, said in a phone interview from a military base. on Cape Cod, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker moved them Friday.
A Venezuelan family in Boston offered room and board to José, who earned $20 a month as a garbage collector in Caracas and left his two children with his grandparents. He will inform US Immigration and Customs Enforcement of his new address and move his appointment with the agency to Boston.
“Now we are free, we can go wherever we want,” José said. “I feel blessed by God.”
Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world and about three-quarters of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day, an international standard for extreme poverty. The monthly minimum wage, paid in bolivars despite a dollar-driven economy, is the equivalent of $15. Many lack access to clean running water and electricity.
The pandemic made jobs in Latin American and Caribbean countries scarcer and the US more attractive as a place to live. At the same time, the strained relationship between the United States and the Venezuelan government makes it extremely difficult expel Venezuelan migrants under a pandemic rule known as Title 42, which US officials invoke to deny people the opportunity to seek asylum in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Mexico, under pressure from the Biden administration, introduced air travel restrictions to limit Venezuelan migration to the United States, but many later switched to dangerous overland travel.
Cuba and Nicaragua have also sent more migrants to the US in the last year. Overall, migrants were stopped 203,597 times at the border in August, or 2.15 million times since October, topping 2 million for the first time in a government fiscal year.
Asked about immigration on Tuesday, Biden said: “What is under my watch right now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The ability to send them back to those states is not rational.”
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro responded by saying that the United States was “trying to use politically the suffering of a group of the Venezuelan population that, in the face of sanctions and the economic war, made the personal decision to emigrate to other places.”
“North American imperialism tried to destroy our country and collapse it and Joe Biden appears today attacking Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” Maduro said during an act televised by state media.