FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 19, 2023
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U.S. Deportation Flights to Venezuela Inhumane with Migrants Returned to Atrocities
Washington, D.C. – The #WelcomewithDignity campaign for asylum rights condemns the Biden administration’s resumption of deportation flights to Venezuela of people fleeing persecution, violence, human rights violations, and economic hardship. This abhorrent program between the U.S. government and the Venezuelan government, deemed the “Return to Homeland,” will imperil the lives of people seeking safety.
Earlier this month, the U.S. government announced it would resume deportations of Venezuelan asylum seekers and migrants, despite the administration’s extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelan citizens last month, which unfortunately offers relief from deportation only to those present in the United States before July 31, 2023.
These actions contradict each other. By designating TPS, the administration acknowledges that it is profoundly unsafe for Venezuelans to return to their home country. Yet these flights will return people to these extremely harsh conditions, where the UN has documented extensive human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
The administration claims these deportation flights will deter future migration, but it has already been proven that such policies of “deterrence” do not work when people are fleeing for their lives. The U.S. government must invest in strengthening and increasing processing capacity at the border, stop turning away people seeking asylum who cannot obtain CBP One appointments, and provide people seeking safety a fair opportunity to prepare for and present their cases. The administration should also increase regional cooperation to expand access to protection, in line with the commitments of the Los Angeles Declaration, and reject draconian measures such as unprecedented aid for deportations that return refugees to danger.
“Venezuela is the only country in Latin America currently under an ongoing investigation at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Undoubtedly, many of the asylum seekers and migrants on the plane risked unimaginable danger, including a voyage through a dangerous stretch of jungle in Panama to get to Central America and, ultimately, the U.S.-Mexico border to seek refuge and safety,” said Melina Roche, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign Manager. “It is shameful that the Biden administration once again is choosing to punish people for seeking a better life. People seeking safety should not need an American sponsor or an appointment. This is yet another way the Biden administration is limiting and restricting access to asylum at the border in violation of international asylum law.”
“Venezuela has been in a critical socio-economic-political and humanitarian crisis for decades and that’s why our fellow citizens fled the country. We need a global approach to the crisis we face and support for the welcome responses for migration and sponsors in the U.S. for Venezuelans fleeing the country,” said Andreina Zuluaga, Delegate, Refugee Congress. “7.3 million people from Venezuela have left the country since 2014 according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Venezuelans have been displaced, and the majority of them have been forced to do so. Getting people back to Venezuela is not going to help the crisis. Venezuelans are looking for opportunities. This needs to have a humanitarian response at a macro level and the adjustment of policies in the U.S. for people who are already here, like expediting work authorization permits for asylum seekers.”
“Ironically, almost a year ago to the day that the Venezuelan parole program was announced, the first deportation flight to Venezuela in years was delivered to a country where, in the words of the State Department Country Report 2022, ‘Significant human rights issues included credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by regime forces; forced disappearances by the regime; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by security forces…’” said Tom Cartwright, leadership team of Witness at the Border. “Witnessing the flight by tracking for almost 12 hours flashed me back to witnessing these flights live over the years, with all their dehumanizing pain. Disturbingly reinforced by the DHS videos portraying people as blurred-face numbers instead of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons, and daughters who are poked and patted down in 5-point shackles like dangerous criminals, fortifying the hate of the anti-immigrant factions. When will we learn that deterrence never has, and never will, work? When will we become our better selves?”
“Last year CGRS met with Venezuelans moving through Panama, in hopes of seeking refuge in the United States,” said Felipe Navarro Lux, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “Most were unaware of the Biden administration’s cruel treatment of asylum seekers at the southern border. They chose to brave the perilous Darien Gap regardless of U.S. policies, because they had no other choice. They were fleeing for their lives. This underscores the futility of so-called deterrence policies. Resuming deportations to Venezuela will not prevent refugees from fleeing persecution. This policy change only means that our government is once again returning vulnerable people to a country where many will face grave harm.”
“The Biden administration approach to immigration has been a mixed bag. While they have provided relief and protection to vulnerable people through programs like TPS, they have also deported and equally persecuted hundreds of thousands of people back to the same unsafe conditions they fled in the first place,” said Robert Heyman, Strategic Advisor for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and New Mexico. “We need an approach to immigration that centers on humanity and due process while meeting the reality of the moment. You can’t compromise on protecting people’s lives or dignity. It’s time for the Biden administration to abandon these knee-jerk pairings of relief with enforcement approaches that fail Americans and migrants alike. We need a solution that works for everyone, and we know that building legal pathways is the only way forward.”
“The Department of Homeland Security recently concluded that Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crises are so severe that people cannot safely return,” said Katharina Obser, Director of the Migrant Rights & Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “And yet, yesterday the first of many costly repatriation flights to Venezuela began, sending families and individuals back to despair and danger. We denounce this hypocrisy and urge the Biden administration to uphold its obligation to protect people fleeing persecution.”
“Deporting Venezuelan brothers and sisters in the midst of danger, injustice, hunger, persecution and often death, is a cruel and inhumane act,” said Geronimo Ramirez, Maya Ixil, President of Comunidad SOL Ohio. “As displaced Indigenous Nations, we denounce this injustice, we denounce these human rights violations. And we ask that the administration uphold our shared moral values of protection of all people seeking safety instead of punishment”.
“The Administration’s focus on deterrence through harsh consequences for individuals who enter irregularly has led it to turn a blind eye to human suffering and common decency,” said Cindy Woods, National Policy Counsel at Americans for Immigrant Justice. ”With the resumption of deportation flights to Venezuela, the United States is, in its own words, knowingly returning individuals to a country where ‘increased instability and lack of safety due to enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions’ make it unsafe for any individual to return.”
“The decision to resume deportation flights to Venezuela runs contrary to President Biden’s promises on the campaign trail, and to our most treasured values as a nation. The current administration cannot claim to champion the mending of division and the capacity to welcome while simultaneously implementing policies of exclusion,” said Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy with Church World Service. “The extension of Venezuelan TPS just months ago illustrates that the Biden administration understands the harm and danger that Venezuelans would face upon return– and yet, the administration has chosen to resume flights anyway. The Maduro regime in Venezuela has a long and disturbing record of human rights abuses, and the decision to resume deportations there is one of willful negligence on behalf of the Biden administration, and one that will undoubtedly levy danger and harm on a community that is already experiencing great hardship.”
“IRAP condemns the U.S. government’s willingness to send Venezuelans back to a humanitarian crisis that it recently deemed severe enough to warrant the redesignation of Temporary Protected Status,” said Laurie Bell Cooper, U.S. Legal Director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “Rapid-fire proceedings means people are not getting their full chance to seek asylum, and now risk getting deported back to danger.”
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The #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign for asylum rights is composed of more than 100 organizations committed to transforming the way the United States receives and protects people forced to flee their homes to ensure they are treated humanely and fairly. To learn more and join our campaign visit: welcomewithdignity.org