Understanding Migration at the US Southern Border through Venezuelans

Vijay Violet
4 min readMay 27, 2024


A dirt path in the middle of a field with cows grazing

Migration at the border is a potent political issue. To see why, one needs to look no further than the recent election in the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean. President Abinader won in a landslide in his reelection. He emphasized building a wall and curtailing migration through the border with Haiti, which has been taken over by gang violence at the fall of their government. Alternatively, across the Atlantic, in the United Kingdom, the idea of relocating migrants to Rwanda, that has met with a chilly reception with its implementation now put off, will be among the many reasons for the expected fall of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government.

Human migration is a constant though migration patterns vary. While some may question the very idea of countries even as others believe God made countries, migration challenges across borders are real. Everyone has their own ideas on what should or should not be done about migrants. This writing captures a few simple principles and a host of complexities specific to migration at the US southern border — a focus of 2024 US elections.

The simple principles are these. Given the financial and physical challenges and hardships during and after migration, those who undertake the task don’t do so lightly. Consider Venezuelan migration, for exampe. To reach the southern border, most Venezuelans travel thousands of miles starting with the dangerous 65-mile-long Darién Gap to Columbia on their path along many other countries, sometimes with their family in tow. Most of them are middle class in Venezuelan terms and don’t have any criminal history. While some migrate for fear of persecution many others aspire to escape their inordinate living conditions. To vilify all migrants is reckless.

The answer to why migrants are coming to the US southern border and in droves recently is more complex. Why are the conditions of oil-rich Venezuela so dire that millions have left? There are two competing lines of explanation with the truth likely something in between. The US puts the problems on Venezuelan governance for the last 25 years: Corruption and crime, dictatorial ambition of President Maduro for the last ten years and President Chávez before him, and human-rights violations. The second line of explanation places the problems squarely on the US. Concerned by socialist successes in its own hemisphere, which impedes the growth of capitalistic US industries, the US has repeatedly undermined Venezuelan success, covertly and directly.

Of the about eight million Venezuelans who have migrated over the last decade during Maduro’s reign, nearly two million have relocated to Columbia, where more than a million have been extended multi-year visas so they can stay there legally. Millions of others are dispersed in a host of countries in the region, including a few hundred thousands in the US. Two recent events have hastened the Venezuelan exodus: Oil export sanctions imposed by the US in 2019 following the second election of Maduro which the US has claimed is illegitimate, and the coming of the pandemic in 2020 which worsened the already bad economic conditions in Venezuela. Since 2017, by one estimate, the US has spent $2.7B in neighboring countries to halt Venezuelans from reaching the US border. Yet a few hundred thousand have reached the US border, showing the limits of such efforts.

After the pandemic, beginning in 2020, the US government used a law known as Title 42 to stop anyone reaching the southern US border as a way to stop the uncontrollable spread of the disease. This law was used until May 2023 at which time the judiciary declared its use to stop migrants unlawful. To be considered for asylum, the US government requires those reaching the border to have applied for asylum in another country en route and be rejected, to use an electronic system to register and document the reason for asylum, and ultimately to surrender themselves at one of the border control posts. By one estimate, more than 80% of those arriving at the border follow all these procedures. For various reasons, some are denied asylum following an initial screening but most wait for processing. While migrants arriving from some countries who are denied an asylum can be deported immediately, this is not possible for Venezuelans because the US has no diplomatic relations with the country.

The backlog of processing of asylum applications at the southern border was in the hundreds of thousands more than 15 years ago so we can imagine where the backlog is today. Mercifully, the government has waived a six-month waiting rule for Venezuelans to apply for jobs while they wait for an asylum hearing. These migrants who have applied for asylum as per international law are here legally.

Focusing on Venezuelans has made it possible to make details in this writing concrete, but their predicament is only one example. We are where we are because of the intertwined policies of many governments in the US and in the region over decades, and because of global reasons from the climate change to the pandemic. There are no quick or easy answers to migration questions, without violating our own laws or international laws and norms. But our solutions must begin with treating migrants as people without prejudice.

Remembering dear AJ and others like him who bear the brunt of wars for the policies of their governments, here in the US and elsewhere on this Memorial Day!

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Vijay Violet

I am an American. I care about the planet, its people and animals. I care about the oppressed and marginalized. And I care about the poor, both working and not.