Photo: Go Nakamura (Reuters)

Venezuelans Now Cross The Rio Grande, Too

Men, women, children and elderly people are entering the United States via Rio Grande, following migratory routes and methods that Mexicans and Central Americans had traditionally used

Since 2017, we’ve seen Venezuelans crossing the Colombian and Brazilian borders, as well as the Caribbean sea on route to Trinidad and the Dutch Antilles, in search of a better life and access to basic rights. We covered those here. 

But did we ever think we would be talking about hundreds of Venezuelans migrating like Mexicans and Central Americans have historically done by land, and using their methods and resources?

We’ve seen it in the news these days. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities confirmed that, just in April, over 6,000 Venezuelans including men, women, children, babies and seniors crossed the border with Mexico through the desert or through the Rio Grande. This puts the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis in a new juncture: one where Venezuelans are joining Central Americans using coyotaje to cross the border, risking their lives in the desert exposed to the elements, wild animals and organized crime, swimming with their children and the few belongings they have across the river, adding the Venezuelan nationality to the number of migrant disappearances at the border, and putting additional pressure on an already complicated border situation.

You see, the United States has historically seen irregular migration patterns happening in its southern border, mainly (but not exclusively) of people coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. There are multiple reasons for their displacement. Poverty, gang violence, crime, food insecurity and aggravated socio-economic conditions because of the effects of climate change, are all serving as drivers of this migration to the U.S. It’s no surprise that citizens from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have generally been the largest group seeking international protection in the U.S. But as the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has gotten worse, and as recent reports have shown, Venezuelans have also joined this group. Just to illustrate this, between 2010 and 2021, the U.S. registered an estimated 1.7 million new asylum claims, including 301,000 from these countries just in 2019, reflecting the deteriorating conditions in Central America, and Venezuela. 

Again, who would have thought?

I have to admit that the story of the elderly woman from Maracaibo (my native town) who was carried by other Venezuelans and Texas law enforcement officers on the southern border of Texas broke my heart. The feeling was the same with the report of the mother crossing the river with her young baby, only to be saved by other Venezuelans and another Texas law enforcement officer. My God, what would have happened if the current pushed the baby out of her hands? We would be hearing stories like that of the young father from El Salvador who drowned with her daughter also trying to cross the Rio Grande. Those are sad stories that we shouldn’t be hearing about, in any case, of people of any nationality. Yet here we are as Venezuelans.

This puts the Venezuelan migrant and refugee crisis in a new juncture: one where Venezuelans are joining Central Americans using coyotaje to cross the border, risking their lives in the desert and adding the Venezuelan nationality to the number of migrant disappearances at the border.

Venezuelans used to fly directly to the U.S., why are they now taking these desperate measures? Why do they risk everything to cross? Well, they are paying attention to the migratory measures that have been recently approved in the U.S., and think they better come and take advantage of them. The TPS approved by the current U.S. administration, however, only allows Venezuelans who were in the U.S. before March 8th to have access to this benefit. So these Venezuelans now crossing the border won’t be able to use that.

Others are immediately applying for asylum as soon as they meet an ICE officer. As we covered here, the issue is that there are very specific reasons for granting asylum in the U.S., and Venezuelans need to know that they may apply and stay until the case is seen by an immigration judge, but there’s no guarantee the case will be approved. 

For now, we should expect this unprecedented growth of Venezuelans irregularly crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to get worse in the coming months, complicating the already challenging Central American migration crisis. 

 

*Opinions are personal. They do not represent those of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian

Maracucha Director of Social Inclusion at the OAS. Proud Political Scientist and Political Junkie, mismo nivel. Closet painter. Opinions are personal.