The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has highlighted a revised border security concern in a recent report — “In keeping with our commitment to enforce our immigration laws, and to continue strengthening the consequences for those who cross our border unlawfully, the United States is announcing today that it will resume direct repatriations of Venezuelan nationals who cross our border unlawfully and do not establish a legal basis to remain.”
The continued increase in the number of individuals arriving in the U.S.-Mexican border has led to the initiation of ‘removal flights’, most commonly referred to as deportation flights, overseen by the Biden Administration. Notably, there has been an increase in the frequency of deportation flights, with a specific emphasis on individuals whose country of origin is Venezuela.
Deportations Escalate Along the U.S.-Mexico Border
In a significant policy shift, the Biden administration has announced the resumption of deportation flights to Venezuela, which began in October, and aims to address the pressure on current immigration laws and policies caused by an current influx in migration. This decision, made by the U.S. Transportation Department, raises immediate concerns about its alignment with human rights laws and the ongoing humanitarian crisis along the southern border that separates the U.S. from neighboring Latin America. Hundreds of individuals from Venezuela have been repatriated to the capital city, Caracas, following the implementation of the revised deportation flight policy. U.S. immigration officials report that individuals selected for deportation flights include both recent arrivals and migrants with a history of criminal offenses in the U.S. On the inaugural flight after the resumption of removal flights in October 2023, a total of 135 Venezuelan migrants were deported from the United States to Caracas, Venezuela.
U.S. Deportation Flights
Deportation flights, chartered under ICE Air (the air transportation division of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency under the Department of Homeland Security), are currently under mandate, departing weekly from undisclosed U.S. airports. These flights target migrant individuals with final removal orders issued by the ICE division of the U.S. federal government. Those who have been unsuccessful in asylum bids, sponsorships, or are unable to seek humanitarian protection, face the highest risk of being deported to their country of origin. The Biden administration attributes this decision to an ongoing increase in migration from Venezuela to the U.S., underscoring the stress on border enforcement across the Southern U.S. border with Mexico.
According to the administration, these flights are in response to “an increase in migration from Venezuela that is straining immigration systems throughout the hemisphere — including in the United States,” the Transportation Department stated in October.
The existence of deportation flights departing from the U.S. with arrival to countries across Latin America predates the current federal administration. Throughout the past century, both ICE and the Department of Homeland Security have transported thousands of migrants who have arrived from Latin America and the Caribbean back to their respective countries. This longstanding practice has been employed as a deterrent, discouraging their re-entry into the U.S. as part of the deportation process. A typical scenario involves the U.S. assuming the responsibility for deporting Cuban migrants who initially sought refuge in the country during periods of political and economic instability, ensuring their safe return to their home countries. The decision made by Biden to recommence deportation flights to Venezuela has been made after a pause that lasted nearly four years.
Data from ICE shows commercial airlines are utilized for deportation flights to Latin America and the Caribbean, including United Airlines and Delta.
U.S. Foreign Relations with Latin America
For years, the U.S. has faced challenges in deporting individuals to countries with tense diplomatic relations, including those located in Latin America such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The revival of deportation flights coincides with the recent extension of temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans already present in the U.S. This evidently conflicting approach raises skepticism about the efficacy of deportation as a deterrent and its potential effects on vulnerable populations. As the Biden administration maneuvers through this complex scenario, ongoing concerns involve the human rights implications and adherence to international laws governing migrant treatment. This is particularly noteworthy given the persistent issues of political corruption, high inflation, and critical infrastructure challenges in Venezuela.
Acknowledging stringent national policies for the safe return of migrants to Venezuela, Mexico has agreed to accept a portion of Venezuelan migrants following their deportation from the U.S. This agreement applies to individuals who have already crossed the border into the U.S. without completing paperwork for asylum seeking or visa status purposes.
Controversy Surrounds Recent Changes in International Boundary Policies
In October 2023, the Biden administration introduced two controversial policy changes, approving both the construction of a border wall and the deportation of Venezuelans. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its intention to construct approximately 17 miles of new border wall in Texas, in accordance with a 2019 appropriations law that was passed under the Trump Administration. To expedite the construction process, the DHS intends to employ a 2005 authority, enabling the waiver of 26 laws related to environmental, public health, and cultural resource protection.
The State Department is tasked with negotiating an agreement with Venezuela, a government not formally recognized by the United States, to recommence the direct deportation of Venezuelan migrants to Caracas.
Democracy Concerns and Motives For Venezuelan Migration
Venezuela has faced a tumultuous multifaceted crisis encompassing political, economic, and humanitarian crisis over the last decade. This crisis has compelled an astonishing 7.3 million individuals to migrate, leaving those who remain struggling with the inability to afford essential necessities such as food, water, electricity, and, for many, even shelter.
In 2018, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro secured re-election in a contest marked by controversy. Judges barred his primary opponents from participating, leading to widespread skepticism about the electoral process in the country.
Consequently, most opposition parties refused to acknowledge the election results. Instead, they opted for a different approach by challenging Maduro’s rule through the establishment of an interim government led by Juan Guaidó. This alternative administration garnered support not only from the United States but also from dozens of nations that no longer recognized Maduro as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.
Parallel to these political maneuvers, the U.S. government implemented a series of substantial sanctions on Maduro’s administration. These sanctions, which restricted the government’s access to U.S. banks and severely impacted the nation’s oil exports, were intended to induce regime change. The hope was that by cutting off key financial and economic avenues, the Maduro government would face increased pressure, potentially paving the way for a shift in leadership. By withholding recognition of the Maduro administration in Venezuela, the U.S. has employed various tactics to sustain its opposition, including the rejection of asylum-seeking migrants. This stance has contributed to the current circumstances of regular deportation flights.
Criticism on U.S. Foreign Policy
Mexican President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has openly criticized U.S. foreign policy and the country’s existing sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba, which restrain migrants from entering the United States through the U.S.-Mexico border. The implementation of these policies has resulted in hundreds of thousands of migrants from various Latin American countries, with a significant increase originating from Venezuela, to remain in Mexico either temporarily or permanently. A significant number among these migrants have faced rejection when attempting entry into the U.S. It’s significant to note that Mexico, like the U.S., grapples with migration challenges that mirror each other in complexity.
Implications for the U.S. 2024 Presidential Election
As the challenges at the border deepen for Democratic President Biden, Republicans are ramping up their focus on immigration, aiming to make it a central theme in the political discourse leading up to the 2024 elections. Republicans perceive immigration and border security as significant weak points for President Biden. There is indication of a substantial shift in public opinion, with voters now overwhelmingly favoring Republicans when it comes to competence in handling immigration and other significant challenges along the Southern Border of the United States.
The resumption of deportation flights from the U.S. to Venezuela raises significant questions about the future trajectory of U.S. migration policy. This development suggests a potential shift or reinforcement in the approach towards Venezuelan migrants, signaling a reevaluation or adjustment in the broader U.S. immigration strategy. The decision to resume such flights may indicate a response to evolving geopolitical or domestic considerations, and its implications could extend beyond the immediate context, influencing the overall direction of U.S. migration policy following the upcoming presidential election.