The U.S. has not carried out regular deportations to Venezuela since 2019, but at an airport in Harlingen, Texas, Venezuelan men and women arrived on buses in shackles, underwent pat-downs and were escorted onto a charter plane.
The 135 Venezuelan migrants were deported from the United States on Wednesday to Caracas, Venezuela.
“They were all single adults who were in ICE ERO custody,” a U.S. immigration official told VOA by email on background, a method often used by U.S. authorities to share information with reporters without being identified.
The migrants remained handcuffed as they walked from the buses and boarded the plane. Once inside, the handcuffs were removed.
According to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement, the migrants “presented their claims for relief or protection from removal before immigration judges in the immigration courts.”
“They went through immigration proceedings,” the official told VOA, adding that some had been detained while going through the immigration system, others were placed in the Alternatives to Detention program or were ordered to check in with deportation officers at an ICE office.
Alternatives to Detention is a program that releases immigrants from border officials’ custody and places them into a specific monitoring program. It is geared toward vulnerable immigrants, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, families with young children and nursing mothers. Those subjected to mandatory detention do not qualify for ATD, generally for reasons related to crime.
In Texas, Jason Owens, U.S. Border Patrol chief, told reporters that migrants must use legal migration routes to enter the U.S. or schedule an appointment through the CBP One app to present themselves at a legal border crossing rather than crossing illegally.
“The message is simple: If you want to come to this country, do it the right way,” Owens said.
The Biden administration announced on October 5 that it would resume deporting migrants back to Venezuela in hopes of decreasing the number of Venezuelans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Biden officials said Venezuelan nationals who cross into the U.S. unlawfully will still be processed. But if they do not have a legal basis to remain in the country, they will be “swiftly removed” back to Venezuela.
“This comes following a decision from the authorities of Venezuela to accept back their nationals,” a U.S. official said in a background call with reporters. “This also reflects a long-standing approach by the Biden-Harris administration that balances historic expansion of access — orderly, lawful pathways — with harsh consequences for those who seek to enter our border irregularly.”
This is the latest effort from the administration to stem the flood of Venezuelans making the dangerous journey through the Darien Gap, Central America, and Mexico to the southern U.S. border.
According to human rights groups, the current exodus of Venezuelans is the largest migration crisis in recent Latin American history.
The United Nations reports that at least 7 million Venezuelans have left their country, a nation of nearly 29 million people, because of political instability, and they travel through countries including Peru and Colombia to get to the United States.
Venezuela also faces U.S. sanctions because of what the United States describes as repressive policies and human rights abuses.
“More than 7.7 million people have left Venezuela in search of protection and a better life,” the U.N. said in August. “The majority — more than 6.5 million people — have been hosted in Latin American and Caribbean countries.”
From May 1 to October 11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has removed more than 300,000 noncitizens from various countries. In fiscal 2022, which ended October 1, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations removed 72,177 migrants to more than 150 countries worldwide.
In fiscal 2021, there were 89,191 removals, and 185,884 removals during fiscal 2020. The 2021 and 2022 decreases, according to ICE, were the result of a decline in apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border tied to the use of a COVID-era restriction known as Title 42, which allowed border officers to quickly expel some migrants to Mexico or their home countries. These were counted as expulsions and not removals.
Before the flight carrying the Venezuelan migrants took off, two additional flights left with migrants headed back to El Salvador and Guatemala.