The United States government reported Monday that it has begun expelling Venezuelan migrants to Colombia without allowing them to seek asylum after they entered the country through the southern border, using a power related to the pandemic.
The move was confirmed by Colombian officials.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it will expel Venezuelans to Colombia "on a regular basis," but did not detail how often. The measure will be limited to Venezuelans who have previously resided in Colombia, he said.
The first two Venezuelans were expelled Thursday after illegally entering the United States from Mexico, US and Colombian officials said. The Colombian immigration agency said they arrived on a commercial flight.
The DHS said it adopted the measure after discussing it with the Colombian government.
The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a meeting was held in December to discuss the possibility of receiving deported Venezuelans who had already been granted temporary residence in Colombia.
He noted that there was no specific figure on how many Venezuelans would be sent to Colombia, but that both parties agreed that the operation would be carried out in a coordinated manner and following health and safety protocols.
The measure is a response to the growing number of Venezuelans seeking refuge in the United States due to the problems that the South American nation is going through.
In December, US authorities found Venezuelans crossing the Mexican border illegally nearly 25,000 times, the second-highest nationality after Mexicans. The figure was more than double that of just three months earlier and far higher than the nearly 200 a year earlier.
The crossings were concentrated in the Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas sectors of the Border Patrol. Venezuelans typically arrive by plane in Mexicali, Mexico, before crossing through nearby Yuma.
Mexico began requiring visas from Venezuelans on January 21, after applying similar restrictions last year to Brazilians and Ecuadorians in response to large numbers of migrants heading for the US border.
It is not yet clear whether the travel restrictions will lead to a drop in the number of Venezuelans arriving at the US border. The number of Ecuadorian migrants plummeted last year with the new visa requirement, while the flow of Brazilians has continued.
Since March 2020, the United States has expelled migrants at the Mexican border without the ability to apply for asylum under what is known as Title 42 authority, named for a 1944 public law that was invoked to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Mexico has agreed to accept migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who are expelled by the United States, but those from other countries are often allowed to remain in the United States to apply for asylum because the US government lacks detention space. or resources to expel them under Title 42.
Olga Byrne, director of migration affairs for the International Rescue Committee, criticized the move.
"Despite the commitments announced by the US administration in its first 100 days, damaging policies like Title 42 remain in place more than a year after taking office," he said in a statement. “Title 42 removals deprive asylum seekers of due process and instead send them back to dangerous conditions similar to, if not worse than, those from which they escaped. In certain cases, they are sent to third countries, such as Colombia, which for years have stepped forward to receive Venezuelan asylum seekers.”