The Biden administration will start deporting Venezuelans who crossed into the country illegally, officials said Thursday, in its latest attempt to stem the pace of migrants fleeing the humanitarian crisis in that country.
The announcement comes as illegal crossings along the southern border have grown considerably higher in recent weeks. Venezuelans, in particular, have been crossing more often since this summer, with 50,000 arrested in September alone.
Border Patrol agents arrested about 200,000 migrants in September, the highest number this year, according to an administration official who spoke anonymously to confirm the preliminary data.
Over the past year, the Biden administration has created new policies to provide legal pathways for Venezuelans fleeing the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have entered the United States in recent years, many seeking asylum. The Biden administration recently extended humanitarian protections to nearly 500,000 who arrived in the United States between March 2021 and July 31 of this year.
The fact that the decision to deport Venezuelans came so soon after the move to allow those already in the United States to live and work legally for 18 months illustrates the predicament President Biden faces on immigration — the pressure to reduce the number of illegal crossings at the southern border versus the pressure from members of his own party who say they are overwhelmed with the number of migrants in their cities.
The mayors of Chicago and New York have said they do not have the resources to provide shelter and other assistance to the thousands of people in need. New York Democrats had argued that the city’s social safety net would tear under the weight of more than 110,000 recently arrived migrants unless they were allowed to work and support themselves more quickly.
Previously, the Biden administration had said it could not deport Venezuelans because of the absence of diplomatic relations with Caracas. The statement on Thursday said the Venezuelan authorities had decided to accept the return of their nationals.
Deportations could discourage migrants from trying to enter the United States illegally but it still not operationally possible to deport every Venezuelan who crosses in between ports of entry.
“Today’s announcement makes clear that we are committed to strictly enforcing immigration laws and quickly removing individuals who do not avail themselves of these orderly processes and choose to cross our border unlawfully,” the Homeland Security Department said in a statement on Thursday.
White House officials argue that the country’s immigration laws are outdated and that only Congress can meaningfully overhaul the system.