EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – One day after the Department of Homeland Security said it would begin expelling Venezuelan migrants entering the country illegally, Mario Freitas stood under a tent on the U.S. side of the border wall, hoping to be allowed to continue his journey.
“We came across in the morning, happy to have made it this far,” the 22-year-old Venezuelan national said. “(Border agents) have treated us well. They gave us water; they gave us food […] The only inconvenience is most of us are disoriented. We don’t know if they’re going to deport us, if they will let us stay, if they will give us asylum.”
DHS late Wednesday issued a statement saying Venezuelans who enter the United States between ports of entry without authorization will be returned to Mexico immediately. The department outlined a new legal entry path for up to 24,000 Venezuelans that apply remotely and arrive via airplane after receiving authorization.
Freitas – who said he left Venezuela fleeing political oppression and $5-a-week salary – was among 300 foreign nationals processed Thursday morning at a U.S. Border Patrol camp called West Bridge near Downtown El Paso.
A steady stream of families and single adults also could be seen walking across the Rio Grande from Juarez, Mexico, on their way to turn themselves in and petition for asylum at the camp.
Most Venezuelans approached by Border Report were unaware of any U.S. policy changes.
David Escoribuela, a Venezuelan migrant preparing to walk across the river from Juarez, said he had not heard that the United States intends to subject people from his country to Title 42 public health expulsions. He set off for the U.S. from Venezuela on foot about a month ago and said he was not planning to stop.
“Brother, we just crossed Panama and Costa Rica [….] I have not eaten in two days,” he said before walking across a dry stretch of the Rio Grande. He joined a large group that marched along the border wall until it ends at the West Bridge camp.
Border Patrol officials declined to say if any of the Venezuelans processed at West Bridge would be expelled. They referred all questions to DHS in Washington, D.C.
However, Mexican sources speaking on condition of anonymity told Border Report some expulsions of Venezuelans had already taken place in Juarez. The sources said Mexico and the United States continue fine-tuning the details of the new policy toward Venezuelans so as to keep them orderly and discourage them from turning to dangerous migrant smugglers.
“This effort is intended to enhance border security by reducing the number of Venezuelans seeking to irregularly enter the United States,. It is derived from the success of the Uniting for Ukraine program, which decreased flows at the border by creating an orderly process for the entry of Ukrainians fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” DHS said in a statement.
Since late August, El Paso has become the spot of choice for Venezuelan migrants to cross into the United States. The city and county are both operating “welcoming centers” to help Venezuelans reach their destination cities in the U.S.
The City of El Paso has racked up at least $6.1 million in busing, meals and hotel room expenses for migrants that it expects to get reimbursed by the federal government.
A lot of the migrants the city is assisting have no sponsors in the United States. The new policy outlined by DHS requires that the Venezuelans applying for legal entry to the U.S. have someone who will provide financially for them.
Anna Hay, deputy director of Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services in El Paso, said the new visa program will help alleviate the demand for migration from Venezuela in the short term.
But “I believe the demand is going to continue for migration, whether it’d be through the asylum system or irregular migration. While there is turmoil in that country, the need to find a safe place is going to continue,” Hay said.
In the past decade, some 7 million Venezuelans have left their country and settled in other South American nations such as Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay and Chile, experts in the region say.