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The Biden administration plans to send most Venezuelan migrants crossing the southern border back to Mexico, which was previously banned, the Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday.

The border policy also creates an opportunity to bring up to 24,000 “skilled” Venezuelans into the country. The plan includes a joint effort between the United States and Mexico to stop human smuggling operations by creating new immigration checkpoints and additional resources to combat human trafficking operations.

The new policy comes amid an increase in the number of migrants crossing into the US in recent years. It also comes ahead of midterm elections in which immigration is often a top issue among likely Texas voters.

“These actions make it clear that there is a legal and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and legal entry is the only way,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

He added that Venezuelans who try to cross the border without permission will not only be returned to Mexico, but will not be able to apply to enter the country in the future.

Due to social unrest and political upheaval, Venezuelans are leaving their home country in record numbers. In recent years, 7 million Venezuelans have fled, making it the largest displacement in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in the world after the Syrian exodus.

Many of the Venezuelans who make the 3,000-mile journey from South America to the US-Mexico border face extreme environmental hazards and violence along the way.

“Nearly four times as many Venezuelans as last year attempted to cross our southern border, putting their lives in the hands of ruthless smuggling organizations,” DHS said in a statement. “The actions the United States and Mexico are announcing today are aimed at addressing the most acute forms of illegal migration and will help ease the pressure on cities and states that host these people.”

Federal immigration agents recorded 2.1 million encounters at the Southwest border — a record number — in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30. This is 24% more than the entire previous fiscal year. According to federal government statistics, immigration agents encountered nearly 154,000 Venezuelans along the US-Mexico border in the first 11 months of this fiscal year — a 216% increase over the entire previous fiscal year. Most of the encounters with Venezuelans took place in the El Paso and Del Rio areas.

To be “qualified,” Venezuelans wishing to enter the U.S. will need someone to agree to provide financial support and will need to pass a background check.

In March 2020, the Trump administration enacted an emergency health order, known as Section 42, which immigration agents have used to immediately send back to Mexico many people who try to cross the border, including asylum seekers, without pre- the appearance of charges and waiting until the official deportation process.

But before Biden’s announcement Wednesday, Venezuelans could not be sent across the border under Section 42 because they are on a list of nationals Mexico does not accept. But Wednesday’s announcement called the new policy a joint venture between the U.S. and Mexico. Venezuelan migrants cannot be deported back to their country because the US severed diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 2019. Instead, they were released to local shelters.

Immigration agents released 6,800 migrants, many of them Venezuelan, into El Paso last week, a 300% weekly increase from nearly two months ago, according to El Paso’s online “migrant crisis” panel.

Unable to support the influx of migrants, El Paso has spent more than $2 million on chartered buses to New York and Chicago to ferry thousands of migrants out of the city. El Paso has transported more than 12,000 migrants, mostly to New York, since late August, according to the dashboard.

Before El Paso bused migrants, Gov. Greg Abbott used taxpayer dollars to transport thousands of migrants to Washington, D.C., New York and Chicago. His public announcements about the buses drew condemnation from Democratic leaders across the country, who accused the Texas governor of using people as political pawns.

Abbott’s campaign strategy seemed to inspire imitators from other GOP governors. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis chartered two private jets from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts island known as a tourist destination. Many of the migrants were misled before boarding the flights, prompting multiple lawsuits against Florida’s governor and an investigation by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office.

Abbott’s bus strategy remains popular with a slim majority of Texas voters. According to an August poll by the University of Texas at Austin, 52% of voters supported the governor’s plan. Immigration and border security were ranked as voters’ top issues ahead of the 2022 election, with 26% of Texans ranking it as the top issue over the state’s economy.

Venezuelans are leaving their native country amid social unrest and political upheaval. The South American country was once one of the richest in Latin America. The United States then imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela’s government in an attempt to force President Nicolas Maduro to step down after US federal officials accused him of election fraud. These sanctions led to the collapse of the oil industry, which was the engine of the country’s economy.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin maintains financial support for The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization funded in part by donations from members, foundations, and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in Tribune journalism. A full list of them can be found here.

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