Biden administration resumes deportation flights to Venezuela

Move comes amid record numbers of Venezuelan migrants arriving at the southern US border

Venezuelan migrants wade across the Tuquesa River after trekking through the Darien Gap in Bajo Chiquito, Panama. AP
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President Joe Biden's administration announced on Thursday that it would resume direct deportation flights of Venezuelan migrants who crossed the US border unlawfully.

Within days, flights will start returning Venezuelans who are in custody and who have no legal basis to remain in the US, officials said.

Caracas had for years declined to receive deportation flights. US officials would not say if Venezuela had been offered concessions to begin accepting migrant returns.

“Today's announcement is a key part of our continuing efforts to strengthen the consequences that are in place at the border for migrants who cross unlawfully, even as we have continued to oversee the largest expansion of lawful pathway to the United States in decades,” a senior US official told reporters.

The announcement comes as Mr Biden faces intense pressure to reduce the number of migrants arriving at the southern border.

Earlier on Thursday, his administration announced it would extend construction of a section of the US southern border wall.

Venezuelans fleeing the economic and political crisis under President Nicolas Maduro constitute the bulk of arrivals at the US southern border. According to the UN, about 7.7 million Venezuelans have fled home in recent years.

More than 260,000 Venezuelans were stopped at the border during the 2023 fiscal year, according to Department of Homeland Security figures. In 2020, 4,500 Venezuelans arrived.

The US had been deporting Venezuelans to Mexico or Colombia.

Thursday's announcement comes after high-level discussions took place in Mexico City between the US, Mexico, Colombia and Panama.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas were in Mexico for talks on migration as well as drug and gun smuggling.

Last month, Mr Mayorkas extended Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans for 18 months, citing “instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political and environmental conditions” in the South American country.

The designation only applies to Venezuelans who entered the country before July 31.

In January, the US launched a sponsorship programme for Venezuelans, which has so far admitted about 61,000 people.

The US and Venezuela do not have diplomatic relations. Successive US administrations sanctioned Venezuelan entities and people believed to be affiliated with the Maduro regime.

Updated: October 05, 2023, 9:36 PM