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Abrupt New Border Expulsions Split Venezuelan Families

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Miguel Peñaranda, his wife and two stepchildren believed that the long adventure that began seven years ago when they left Venezuela ended when they arrived in the United States on October 6.

After appearing at the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso, the Peñarandas were placed in separate cells for men and women, as they assumed it would take a day or two to process their first asylum application.

Peñaranda, 44, and his 18-year-old son-in-law were released three days later in Brownsville, Texas, without his wife or 20-year-old daughter-in-law.

It was a week of agony before Peñaranda got a call from his wife, Heyllyn Yepez. “My love, it’s so comforting to hear your voice,” he recalled telling her, who was sobbing on her phone. “We are in Mexico!” she said. “We were deported and sent to Acapulco.”

The family is one of many disrupted by the Biden administration’s abrupt border closure last month, which blocked the entry of thousands of Venezuelan migrants heading to the United States this year.

The decision to deport Venezuelans under a pandemic-era policy that allowed for rapid deportation, which had previously applied mainly to Mexicans and Central Americans, has left many Venezuelans on the other side of the U.S.-Mexico border. It had the unintended effect of locking the family in.

A Venezuelan man in Utah was earning enough money to send money for his wife and three young children, but they were detained in Mexico when expanded deportation policies were announced. was given. A Venezuelan woman who arrived in New York with her husband and her two sons in September said her mother and her sisters were stranded in Costa Rica, and she would join her as the border remains closed. she said she couldn’t.

“They can’t go home because they have to go through the jungle, and they can’t come here,” said Loiseth Colmenares, 30, a woman.

“We are losing hope of reuniting with our families,” she said.

Three Republican governors have highlighted what Republicans call the “Biden Border Crisis” by moving thousands of immigrants across the border to cities like New York, Washington and Chicago. But when the Biden administration suddenly banned most Venezuelans from entering the country, it created a new cycle of turmoil and unrest.

Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting unaccompanied immigrant children, said: “Families were intentionally separated under Trump. No, but it still has a devastating effect on families.

“This is the result of poorly thought out immigration policies,” she said.

Inadvertent family separations are just part of the chaos with the arrival of far more Venezuelans than U.S. border facilities can accommodate.

Over the past year, the Biden administration has struggled with the largest influx of unauthorized immigrants since the mid-2000s. He included nearly 200,000 Venezuelans among the estimated 2.4 million immigrants who met at the border in fiscal 2022, an economic, political and social crisis that has forced people around the world to travel to the United States. We arrived in the middle of the climate crisis.

In the weeks leading up to the new deportation policy, pressure on US border facilities became extreme, creating a chaotic situation.

In some cases, Border Patrol agents were apparently sending Venezuelan immigrants to seemingly random cities across the country, including Denver, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento. Many cities had no family or friends to receive them. He said he had immigrants arriving with immigration papers in their hands listing any local addresses they said they would find.

Autumn Gonzalez, a volunteer attorney and director of the nonprofit immigration network NorCal Resist, said eight bewildered immigrants showed up in Sacramento in September, claiming the address they were told at the border was the location of the shelter. Said. Turned out to be an office building. “It’s a gamble with people’s lives,” she said.

Homeland Security spokesman Luis Miranda said Border Patrol agents are asking migrants where they plan to go once they are released from custody. Those who did not know were allowed to provide the non-governmental organization’s address, he said.

Dailo Gonzalez, one of those sent to Denver, said he and his brother, Deuri, told Texas border officials that they had no family in the United States. I chose Denver for the show and that was it,” he said.

“I was completely lost,” said Gonzalez, 33, when he soon realized that the address on the form was for the administration building.

A coalition of Denver nonprofits and religious groups mobilized to open immigrant shelters and met with city and state officials to secure additional resources. The Biden administration then extended its deportation policy, known as Title 42, leading to a sharp drop in the number of Venezuelans allowed into the United States and new problems of families being separated on both sides of the border. but it’s still not organized.

In Gonzalez’s case, his niece and her partner were stranded in Mexico when the policy took effect. “We had to send money for them to buy food and clothes. They spent everything they needed to travel,” he said.

He and his brother plan to use their next paycheck to help fund their return to Panama, where they can stay with relatives, he said.

There were many such situations.

Rosa Colmenares, 39, who crossed the border with her husband and 12-year-old son on Sept. 16, lives at a Marriott hotel in New York and keeps in touch with her cross-border exiled cousin. .

When the new policy was adopted, she said, “a lot of people were stopped along the way.” She said she couldn’t go. “Honestly, I’m sad,” she said, raising her voice. “There’s nothing left to do but go ahead of her and work and try to help her.”

Miranda, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said he never intentionally separated families, but there may have been instances where adult family members were separated because they could not be legally processed or held together. said to be sexual.

“If that happens and we become aware of the problem, we will take proactive steps to bring such families back together,” he said in a statement.

A staff member of the advocacy group Kids in Need of Defense said some Venezuelans currently stranded in Mexico knew that minors would not be deported, so they wanted to go to a safe place in the United States. said she was so hopeless that she was about to send her children alone to Create additional isolation.

“We advised them of the risks involved in this action,” said Megan McKenna, the group’s senior director of public relations.

Car detailer Peñaranda and his wife, a schoolteacher, said they decided to travel to the United States after their family spent six years in Costa Rica and were denied asylum. Neighboring countries.

After crossing the border in El Paso on Oct. 6, Peñaranda and his son-in-law spent several days in a frigid room before being handcuffed and handcuffed to the plane bound for Brownsville, Texas. I staggered up the stairs. The border town where they were finally liberated.

“I thought we would all be together soon,” Peñaranda said.

Yepes and her daughter were flown more than 200 miles from Brownsville to Laredo, Texas, where they were among more than 100 immigrants sharing a stinking warehouse, she recalled.

It was around this time that the Department of Homeland Security announced on October 12th that it would begin deporting Venezuelan migrants who crossed the border back into Mexico without authorization.

The women were ordered to board buses while wearing the T-shirts, sweatpants and plastic slippers they received at the border holding facility, and with their mobile phones stolen.

As the bus slowly crossed the bridge over the Rio Grande, they realized where they were heading and were overcome with despair.

In Nuevo Laredo, Mexican authorities moved them, along with several other Venezuelans, to yet another bus. This bus goes to Acapulco.

“I could never have imagined this happening,” Yepes said in a telephone interview from Mexico. “How can you do this to your family? It’s so inhumane.”

Peñaranda said his family is still figuring out what to do next. Returning to Venezuela is not an option and we are unsure if the Mexican authorities will allow everyone to stay in Mexico.

“I would rather be sent to somewhere in China than be separated,” he said. “I understand that this was not the correct way to enter. But this is not how people should be treated.”

Eileen Sullivan contributed to the report.

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