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The Biden administration has started removing some Venezuelan migrants encountered at the southern border to Colombia as officials look to deal with a dramatic increase in Venezuelans arriving at the border.
The Department of Homeland Security confirmed to Fox News that it had returned two Venezuelans to Colombia under Title 42 public health protections last week. The statement noted that the migrants had previously lived in Colombia.
“DHS is committed to ensuring that every migrant encountered is processed in a safe, orderly, and humane manner,” the agency said in a statement.
DHS said that flights of Venezuelan nationals who had previously lived in Colombia before traveling to the U.S. are expected to take place “on a regular basis” going forward and would be operated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The development was first reported by CNN.
It comes as the administration is dealing with a growing number of migrants who are not from Mexico or the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
There were 178,840 total migrant encounters in December 2020. The number of Nicaraguans rose from 640 in December 2020 to 15,298 in December 2021. The number of Venezuelans, meanwhile, increased from 206 to 24,819.
Venezuela has been facing an economic and social crisis for years under the socialist regime of dictator Nicolas Maduro. The U.S. and other countries backed opposition leader Juan Guaido after elections that international observers believed were rigged, but Maduro has clung to power.
The Title 42 health protections were implemented during the Trump administration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and allow for the rapid expulsion of migrants at the border. The Biden administration has kept Title 42 in place, but its use has faded over the last year, with the administration refusing to apply it to unaccompanied children and Mexico refusing to take back migrant families with young children.
That situation has further been complicated by the presence of a greater number of migrants outside of Mexico and the Northern Triangle. In December, only 59% of single adults were removed under Title 42 and 19% of family units.
DHS said that while it continues to enforce Title 42, its ability to expel migrants may be limited, partially due to Mexico’s “ability and capacity” to receive individuals of certain nationalities. It said it has utilized deportation flights to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Brazil.
The Biden administration has come under intense criticism for its handling of the border crisis, particularly from Republicans, who have accused the administration of fueling the crisis by rolling back key Trump-era border protections.
However, even limited steps toward greater removals face significant pushback from activists and Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, told CNN that “using Title 42 to expel refugees to third countries, is unconscionable and has to stop.”