The Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday confirmed CNN’s reporting that it will roll out a new program geared toward Venezuelan migrants seeking to come to the United States and return those who cross the border unlawfully back to Mexico.
CNN first reported the proposal was under consideration on Tuesday.
The program for Venezuelans is similar to the approach the administration took toward Ukrainians earlier this year. They will have to apply, have a sponsor in the US and undergo screening and vetting, as well as complete vaccinations. Up to 24,000 Venezuelans will be accepted, DHS said.
The program comes amid an influx of migrants from those nationalities at the US-Mexico border, straining federal resources and border cities. In August, 55,333 migrants encountered at the border were from Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua, a 175% increase from last August, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“These actions make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and lawful entry is the only way,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.
The plan is intended to serve as an expanded and more orderly process. If migrants meet the criteria and are approved, they’d then be paroled into the US at an airport with the ability to also work legally.
Venezuelans who are ineligible include those who have been ordered removed from the US in the last five years, crossed the border unlawfully after Wednesday’s announcement or have irregularly entered Panama or Mexico after the date of the announcement. Thousands of Venezuelan migrants have been passing through Panama on their way to the US.
Venezuelan migrants will now also be sent back to Mexico under a Trump-era pandemic emergency restriction if they cross the US-Mexico border, marking a significant departure from before.
Administration officials have been grappling with mass migration throughout the Western Hemisphere for months, stressing the need for all countries to help alleviate the flow and create better conditions in country. The issue was a topic of discussion again last week at a meeting of foreign ministers in Lima, Peru.
The shift in demographics – with many of the migrants now from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua – is uniquely difficult for the US given, in part, frosty relations with those nations that largely bar the administration from removing people from those countries.
The plan is an acknowledgment of the reality that Venezuelans are largely released in the US while they go through immigration proceedings, and in some cases, have family or friends they are joining in the country.
The Biden administration took a similar approach as the one under consideration with Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn country, allowing them entry into the United States as well as the ability to work for a temporary period. That program was set up to avoid having Ukrainians to the US-Mexico border and come through an orderly process.
Poor economic conditions, food shortages and limited access to health care are increasingly pushing Venezuelans to leave – posing an urgent and steep challenge to the administration as thousands arrive at the US southern border.
More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country amid deteriorating conditions, matching Ukraine in the number of displaced people and surpassing Syria, according to the United Nations. More than 1,000 Venezuelans are apprehended along the US-Mexico border daily, according to a Homeland Security official.
Venezuelans apprehended at the US-Mexico border are generally paroled into the US and released under an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program that monitors people using GPS ankle monitors, phones or an app while they go through their immigration proceedings.
The jump in Venezuelans moving in the hemisphere came up during a meeting at the White House last month with 19 Western Hemisphere nations, a senior administration official previously told CNN.
“We do find that a lack of coordination leads to more migrants being exploited,” the senior administration official said. “There’s consensus that there’s value in us working more closely and trying to synchronize our policies.”
This story has been updated with additional information Wednesday.