Washington — The number of Venezuelans crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally dropped dramatically in October, when the Biden administrationsome migrants directly to crisis-stricken Venezuela, according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data published Tuesday.
Border Patrol agents apprehended 29,637 migrants from Venezuela who entered the U.S. without authorization last month, a 46% drop from September, when unlawful crossings by Venezuelans soared to 54,833, a monthly.
The Biden administration announced in early October it had reached a deportation agreement with the Venezuelan government, a U.S.-sanctioned regime that had long refused to accept the return of its citizens. Officials at the time vowed to deport those found to be ineligible for asylum or the Biden administration offered to 472,000 Venezuelans who arrived before July 31.
On Oct. 18, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) carried out its first-ever deportation flight to Venezuela. The agency has since staged weekly deportation flights there, deporting hundreds of Venezuelan adults under a process known as expedited removal.
Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said the decrease in Venezuelan arrivals along the southern border was more pronounced after the deportation flights started.
“In conjunction with our resumption of removal flights to Venezuela consistent with delivering consequences for those who cross the border unlawfully, CBP saw a 65 percent decrease in southwest border encounters of Venezuelans in the second half of October, compared to the second half of September,” Miller said in a statement.
Overall illegal entries along the southern border also decreased in October. Border Patrol apprehensions of migrants who entered the U.S. without legal permission dropped below 189,000 last month, a 14% decrease from nearly 219,000 in September.
Those tallies do not include legal entries under two programs the Biden administration created to disincentivize migrants from crossing into the country unlawfully. One policy allows up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuleans to fly to the U.S. each month if Americans agree to sponsor them. The other program allows migrants in Mexico to use a phone app to request an appointment to be processed at an official border crossing. In October, more than 44,000 migrants were allowed to enter the U.S. through the app-powered process, according to federal data.
The significant, though potentially temporary, drop in Venezuelan arrivals could be a breakthrough moment for the Biden administration’s efforts to manage the unprecedented levels of Venezuelan migration to the U.S. Since President Biden took office, U.S. border officials have processed more than half a million Venezuelans who arrived in northern Mexico as part of a broader historic spike in migration.
Venezuelans have posed unique challenges for U.S. officials. Because Venezuela refused to accept U.S. deportations for years, the U.S. negotiated a deal last year with Mexico to send some Venezuelans back across the southern border. But Mexico only accepted a limited number, meaning that most Venezuelans have been released into the U.S. pending a review of their cases after crossing the border.
New York City, Chicago, Denver and other cities have struggled to house destitute Venezuelan migrants, most of whom don’t have family members or friends in the U.S. who can take them in.
Another challenge has been the sheer number of displaced Venezuelans, the largest refugee-like population in the world. More than 7 million people have left Venezuela in recent years to escape the widespread economic crisis there, according to the United Nations.
Adam Isacson, a migration analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S. think tank, said the deportation flights to Venezuela had an immediate impact on migrants’ decision to travel north.
“Anybody who is considering migrating to the United States saw the news about the deportations, which everybody heard, and decided to at least wait and see,” Isacson said, citing a recent trip to Latin America.
Isacson, however, noted the downward trend may change after Venezuelans understand that the U.S. is deporting a small fraction of all those crossing the southern border. The conditions in Venezuela, after all, have not changed, he said.
“Extreme poverty, insecurity and an authoritarian government are still there,” he said.