Biden administration to resume direct deportation flights for Venezuelan migrants

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is resuming direct repatriation flights for Venezuelans who unlawfully cross the border and “do not establish a legal basis to remain” in the country, the Biden administration announced Thursday.

The Venezuelan government has agreed to take back deported migrants, a senior administration official said.

“This also reflects a long-standing approach by the Biden-Harris administration that balances historic expansion of safe, orderly, lawful pathways with harsh consequences for those who seek to cross our border irregularly,” the official said on a call with reporters.

The U.S. has already identified people in federal custody who arrived after July and “will be removed promptly in the coming days,” another senior administration official said.

The Biden administration last month made all Venezuelans who have lived in the U.S. since before August eligible for what’s known as temporary protected status, allowing them to stay in the country without fear of deportation and providing them with the right to obtain work authorization.

A senior administration official on Thursday rejected the notion that resuming direct deportation flights contradicted the recent decision to grant TPS status to certain Venezuelan migrants.

“We as a matter of policy and as a matter of historical practice continue to remove individuals to countries that have TPS designations after the date of the TPS designation,” the official said. “So this is not something any new or different from the long-standing practice of this administration, but really all previous administrations.”

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, in announcing the TPS status for Venezuelans last month, also said “it is critical that Venezuelans understand that those who have arrived here after July 31, 2023, are not eligible for such protection and instead will be removed when they are found to not have a legal basis to stay.”

At a news conference in Mexico, Mayorkas said Thursday, “We have made a determination that it is safe to return Venezuelan nationals who have arrived in the United States subsequent to July 31 and do not have a legal basis to remain here.”

The U.S. has removed Venezuelan nationals from the U.S. to Venezuela through commercial flights for “a number of years,” a senior administration official said Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that the announcement comes after “high-level discussions yesterday in Mexico City between the United States, Mexico, Colombia, and Panama,” where Mayorkas, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other leaders “discussed ongoing coordinated efforts to address irregular migration in the Western Hemisphere.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Wednesday that in one day it had encountered 6,500 migrants from Venezuela, the most common nationality of migrants trying to cross the border.

As a point of comparison, the number of border crossers CBP encountered Wednesday was nearly 10,000 — more than 8,200 of whom crossed illegally — according to agency data.

Speaking with reporters Thursday, a senior administration official said the new deportation policy “shows how we are committed to imposing consequences on those who cross the border unlawfully, and it’s a direct consequence of these individuals’ not having availed themselves of the lawful pathways that we have created and expanded, which includes the humanitarian parole process for Venezuelan nationals and their family members.”

High-profile Democrats have increasingly called on President Joe Biden to take more action on the border, including Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

“As just one state in our union, we cannot lead coordination efforts at the border,” Pritzker said Monday in a letter to Biden. “It is time for the federal government to take a much more active role in managing the transport and destination of the transport of asylum seekers.”

The Biden administration this week announced that it had waived more than two dozen federal laws to allow more border wall construction in Texas. Reached for comment, a White House spokesperson deferred to CBP but also pointed to the June announcement to move forward with “planning and execution” of about 20 miles of “border barrier system.”

Mayorkas said in a statement there is “no new Administration policy with respect to border walls” and argued that “the language in the Federal Register notice is being taken out of context and it does not signify any change in policy whatsoever.”

Mayorkas said that the construction project was appropriated during the Trump administration and that the Biden administration was legally required to use the funds for that reason.

“We have repeatedly asked Congress to rescind this money, but it has not done so, and we are compelled to follow the law,” he said.

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