Oct 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Venezuelans surpass Mexicans crossing U.S. border

Data: U.S. Customs and Border Protection; Chart: Axios Visuals

Venezuelans surpassed Mexicans as the largest single nationality attempting to cross the southern border without visas last month — marking yet another historic shift in migration trends.

Why it matters: President Biden has grappled with not only an overwhelming number of migrants and asylum seekers at the border, but also the complication of new demographics as instability across the Western Hemisphere worsens.

  • Deteriorating economic and safety conditions in Venezuela as well as political instability continue to push people northward. Other Venezuelans are fleeing desperate situations in surrounding nations, experts say.
  • Meanwhile, limitations on the U.S.'s ability to deport Venezuelans has long meant migrants face fewer risks once they make it across the border. Criminal smuggling networks have also grown more sophisticated.

By the numbers: Nearly 67,000 Venezuelans crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last month without visas. 82% of them crossed illegally.

  • More than a quarter of a million crossed in fiscal year of 2023, which saw an all-time record number of migrants attempting to cross the southern border either illegally or at ports of entry through an app and Biden's new parole programs.
  • The number of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to cross the border illegally was slightly down from last year's record-breaking number, however.
  • More could be on the way: Nearly 59,000 Venezuelans crossed the dangerous jungles of the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama last month, according to Panamanian statistics.

Catch up quick: The Biden administration has announced a slew of new policies targeting Venezuela in recent weeks.

  • Last week, it eased sanctions on Venezuela's oil and gas sector after authoritarian President Nicolás Maduro's representatives joined with the opposition party in signing onto a plan for presidential elections in 2024.
  • U.S. officials resumed the deportation of Venezuelans for the first time in years.
  • The administration is also planning to use foreign aid to help Panama conduct deportations — an unprecedented move for the U.S. government.
  • The efforts to increase Venezuelan deportations came shortly after the Biden administration expanded Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans who were in the U.S. as of the end of July, granting them permission to legally live and work in the country for 18 months.

Zoom out: All of this comes at a pivotal time in Venezuelan politics. Opposition parties held their first primary on Tuesday in over a decade, aiming to unseat Maduro in next year's election.

  • María Corina Machado, a former lawmaker and Maduro critic, dominated the primary election.
  • The Maduro administration has disqualified Machado from running, though she has vowed to supporters that she will find a way onto the ballot in 2024.
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