EAGLE PASSAGE, Texas — It cost Nerio two months and everything he had to do to get from Venezuela to the United States, traveling mostly on foot and watching exhausted compatriots being mugged or left to die.
Like a growing number of Venezuelans, Nerio embarked on a dangerous journey that included a journey through Panama’s notorious jungle, the Darien Gap, and Mexico, where migrants often face extortion and threats from government officials, hoping for a better life in the United States.
“We know nobody wants us to come here,” Nerio said last month in Eagle Pass, Texas, a town of 30,000 that is at the center of the rise in Venezuelan migrants to the United States. He asked that his surname not be published out of concern for his safety.
Last month, Venezuelans overtook Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second nationality stopped at the US border after Mexicans. Nerio, who traveled with a dozen other people fleeing poverty and violence in Venezuela, was among them.
Venezuelans have been arrested 25,349 times, up 43% from 17,652 in July and four times the 6,301 encounters in August 2021, authorities said Monday, signaling a remarkably sudden demographic shift.
An estimated 6.8 million Venezuelans have fled their country since the economy fell in 2014, mostly to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. But the relative strength of the US economy since the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed Venezuelan migrants to look north. In addition, US politics and strained relations with the Venezuelan government make it extremely difficult for them to be sent home.
The news has spread in Venezuela as more families and neighbors arrive in Texas and are released with notices to appear in immigration court or on humanitarian parole.
“We hope that in a few years the problems in Venezuela will be resolved so that we can return to our country of origin, but until then we have to be migrants and endure what this journey will mean for us,” Nerio said. .
The impact is reflected in the daily headlines. About 50 migrants that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis airlifted to the posh island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last week were Venezuelan, as were five of the six men US authorities found drowned in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in early September.
Jose, who asked to be identified only by his middle name out of concern for his safety, was on one of two DeSantis flights. He walked for nearly three months before crossing the Rio Grande in an inflatable raft and reporting to Border Patrol.
While staying at a migrant shelter in San Antonio, José met a woman promising at least three months of housing, a job, medical care and free legal aid. She told the migrants they would go to Washington, Chicago and other immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities.
“We imagined that she was a very important person, that she had a lot of influence and that she could really help us,” said José, who had to go to Philadelphia for compulsory registration with the authorities of the city. immigration at the end of September. “We believed in her. The ignorance of the immigrant.
Yet when they reached Martha’s Vineyard, an enclave known as a summer vacation spot for former President Barack Obama, “nobody was expecting us, nobody knew who we were,” José, 27, said during a telephone interview from a military base in Cape Town. Cod, where Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker moved them on Friday.
A Venezuelan family in Boston offered a room and food to José, who earned $20 a month as a garbage collector in Caracas and left his two children with his grandparents. He will notify US Immigration and Customs Enforcement of his new address and move his appointment with the agency to Boston.
“Now we are free, we can go wherever we want,” José said. “I feel blessed by God.”
Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world and about three-quarters of the population live on less than $1.90 a day, an international standard of extreme poverty. The monthly minimum wage, paid in bolivars despite a dollar-driven economy, is the equivalent of $15. Many do not have access to running water and electricity.
The pandemic has made jobs in Latin American and Caribbean countries more scarce and the United States more attractive as a place to live. At the same time, the US’ strained relationship with the Venezuelan government is making it extremely difficult to deport Venezuelan migrants under a pandemic rule known as Title 42, which US officials are using to deny people the possibility of seeking asylum on the grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19[FEMININE[FEMININE
Mexico, under pressure from the Biden administration, introduced air travel restrictions to limit Venezuelan migration to the United States, but many later turned to dangerous overland travel.
Cuba and Nicaragua also sent more migrants to the United States last year. Overall, migrants were stopped at the border 203,597 times in August, up 2.15 million times since October, topping 2 million for the first time in a government fiscal year.
Asked about immigration on Tuesday, Biden said, “What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The possibility of returning them to these states is not rational.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded by saying that the United States was “trying to politically use the suffering of a group of the Venezuelan population who, in the face of sanctions and economic warfare, made a personal decision to emigrate to other places”.
“North American imperialism has tried to destroy our country and bring it down and Joe Biden appears today attacking Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” Maduro said during a televised event on the state media.
Solomon reported from Miami. Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas, Venezuela, and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed.