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The number of Venezuelan migrants attempting to get into the U.S. is soaring

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Biden administration says it will begin expelling Venezuelans who cross the southern border illegally.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The number of Venezuelans making the dangerous journey to the southern border is soaring. Migrants are fleeing violence and insecurity in the face of economic collapse in their country. There is still a legal pathway, though, but it's narrow and whoever applies needs to have financial sponsors in the U.S. The new policy also requires Mexico to continue its parallel effort to take back Venezuelans who entered illegally.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration for the network and joins us now. Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Joel, why is the administration doing this now?

ROSE: Well, the Biden administration wants to bring down the record numbers of Venezuelan migrants who've been arriving at the southern border this year. Venezuela's economy has been falling apart under authoritarian leader Nicolas Maduro and the impact of U.S. sanctions. The U.N. says more than six million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years. Most have resettled elsewhere in Latin America, but a growing number are making the journey to the U.S., many of them crossing on foot through the infamous Darien Gap jungle in Panama. More than 150,000 have crossed the U.S. border in the last fiscal year, including 25,000 in August alone. And that's putting a strain on immigration authorities at the border, and it's prompting mounting criticism from Republican governors, who've been sending thousands of these migrants north in buses to cities run by Democratic mayors.

FADEL: So what's the Biden administration's approach?

ROSE: It's part carrot and part stick. The administration says it will immediately begin expelling Venezuelan migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border and returning them to Mexico, which is a big change because previously the administration could not expel those migrants under the pandemic border restrictions known as Title 42, because Mexico had refused to take them in. That's the stick. The carrot is that the U.S. will create a new legal pathway for up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants who can meet the eligibility requirements. It's modeled on a program for admitting Ukrainian refugees earlier in the year. One requirement under this new program is that Venezuelan migrants will have to show they have not crossed the border illegally. They have to apply from abroad before they fly here. And they will have to show that they have a financial sponsor who's already in the U.S., which is not, you know, going to be easy for many of them.

FADEL: Right.

ROSE: Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he wants to make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to come to the U.S. and that it is, quote, "the only way."

FADEL: Now, Biden is under a lot of pressure to get border crossings down. With midterm elections coming up, is this going to help him in the midterms?

ROSE: It might, but, you know, there are some major obstacles. For one thing, Venezuelan migrants are still, you know, just a small fraction of all migrant crossings. And another obstacle is that relatively few Venezuelans are going to qualify for this new legal pathway. Many of the migrants crossing this year, you know, simply don't have family or community connections already in the U.S. who could sponsor them. And that's a big difference between Venezuelans and many other migrants who've come before. And, you know, many of these migrants may still decide to just take their chances at the border.

FADEL: What does Mexico have to say about all this?

ROSE: The U.S. and Mexico announced this agreement together, but their respective press releases emphasized very different things. The Mexican government emphasized that the U.S. will be giving out more than 60,000 additional seasonal U.S. work visas for folks from Mexico and Central America. No one is publicly saying that there's a quid pro quo here, but the U.S., you know, can only expel these migrants under Title 42 if Mexico agrees to take them.

FADEL: NPR's Joel Rose, thank you for your time.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.