Last month, 7,484 Venezuelans were encountered by Border Patrol agents along the US-Mexico border more than all 14 years for which records exist.
The surprise increase is a harbinger of a new type of migration that has caught the Biden administration off guard: pandemic refugees.
Many of the nearly 17,306 Venezuelans who have crossed the southern border illegally since January had been living for years in other South American countries, part of an exodus of millions since President Nicol s Maduro took power in 2013.
While some are government opponents, the vast majority are escaping long-running economic devastation marked by blackouts and shortages of food and medicine. With the pandemic still raging in parts of South America, they relocated again.
Increasingly, they’re being joined at the US border by people from the countries they initially fled to like Ecuador and Brazil as well as far-flung nations hit hard by the virus, like India and Uzbekistan.
Compared with other migrants, Venezuelans garner certain privileges a reflection of their firmer financial standing, higher education levels and US policies that have failed to remove Maduro but nonetheless made deportation all but impossible.
The vast majority enter the US near Del Rio, a town of 35,000, and don’t evade detention but turn themselves in to seek asylum.
While Central Americans and others can spend months getting north, most Venezuelans reach the US in as little as four days. Only 26 per cent of asylum requests from Venezuelans have been denied this year, compared with an 80 per cent rejection rate for asylum-seekers from poorer, violence-plagued countries in Central America, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearing house.