Venezuelans Wither Away in American Migration Centers

Little attention is being paid to those requesting asylum in the U.S. or overstaying their visas. They’re held for months and their loved ones barely get any news about their wellbeing.

Photo: BBC retrieved

“My brother crossed the border through Reynosa-McAllen, Texas, and he turned himself in, requesting asylum.” 

“She was arrested for crossing the border bridge of Matamoros and Brownsville, looking for political asylum. She was arrested by U.S. authorities.”

“My mother crossed the border through Hidalgo and was arrested by ICE.”

“My husband gave himself up with me. I was seven months pregnant and they let me out alone. My husband has been in custody for seven months and I’m alone here in this country with my baby.”

They’re held from three up to 14 months, many admitting to overstaying their visas so they can be sent backyes, they rather get deported than staying in detention.

These are some of the testimonies collected by human rights activist and consultant, and Amnesty International volunteer, lawyer Damarys Rangel Matute. In a simple google doc form, friends and relatives of Venezuelans detained by ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, report where their loved ones are detained, for how many months and what status they requested upon arrival to American soil. Most do not have formal legal counsel, making it harder for them to get the asylum case approved.

We recently covered the case of a fellow Venezuelan, José Rafael Guzmán, who faced what dozens of people have faced. They’re held from three up to 14 months, many admitting to overstaying their visas so they can be sent backyes, they rather get deported than staying in detention. U.S. immigration authorities cannot execute the deportation order, however, because there are no consular relations between Maduro’s Venezuela and the United States. Guaidó’s diplomatic representatives are already trying to tackle the issue, but it’s not an easy task when you don’t have a team of lawyers and a robust consular service experience. In addition, Trump’s sanctions don’t allow flights from America to deplane in Venezuela, making it hard to follow deportation procedures. 

Dozens of Venezuelans claim that their relatives are languishing in this limbo, spending months in detention centers across the country, with no further news on their wellbeing, release or general status. The vast majority of around 100 Venezuelans are held at detention centers in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Georgia. A smaller number are detained in Arizona, Florida and Alabama, often moved from center to center with family members having a hard time to keep track. Most are requesting asylum without the proper documents or legal advice. Some, really, are improvising.

Data handled by the author.

So beware, Venezuelans. I’ve heard of stories of coyotes telling Venezuelans how easy it is to show up at the U.S.-Mexican border and ask for asylum in the U.S.; coyotes also take Venezuelans for a week in Cancun, before moving them to Ciudad Juarez, Hidalgo or any of the 50 legal border crossings between Mexico and the United States, or smuggle them through the bridge to then show up in the American side for asylum. 

Do not fall for this. And if you have loved ones in this situation, report it to the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C., or to the group of lawyers coordinating support with the Embassy at [email protected]

** The views are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States.