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Venezuelans Are Dismayed by Trump's New Asylum Rule: "The Doors Are Being Closed On Us"

Trump spoke to Miami's Venezuelan community at a rally February 18, 2019, at Florida International University.
Trump spoke to Miami's Venezuelan community at a rally February 18, 2019, at Florida International University. Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images
When President Donald Trump announced the United States stood in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, he meant it. Kind of. He was really saying: You Venezuelans can stand over there in Caracas or Mexico, or in whichever Latin American country will take you, while we Americans stay on this side of the border cursing socialism but doing nothing. It was that kind of solidarity.

With its new rule eliminating asylum for most migrants at the border with Mexico, the Trump administration has bolted shut one of the few remaining legal entryways for Venezuelans seeking safety in the United States.

Now asylum protections will be reserved for migrants who already applied — and were denied — in at least one country they passed through on their voyage to the U.S. border.  In other words, only Mexicans and migrants who cross the maritime border will qualify for asylum. 

The rule is the administration's latest effort to address the months-long surge of arrivals at the border, which is mostly composed of family units and unaccompanied children from Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. But it will also affect an increasing number of Venezuelans, Cubans, and asylum seekers from Africa turning up at the border. Trump has expressed his disapproval of humanitarian protections for migrants and has described asylum as a "loophole" in the immigration system.

"The doors are being closed on us," says Patricia Andrade, head of the Miami-based Venezuela Awareness Foundation. "Venezuelans escape their country in desperation to save their lives and the lives of their families, and when certain Venezuelans risk asking for asylum at the border, the possibility is ripped away from them."

Short of instituting an all-out ban, Trump couldn't do much more to keep Venezuelans out of the United States and make life difficult for those already here. Those in Miami have been strung along for months by the Trump administration, which has flirted with extending deportation protections to Venezuelans here without legal status but has yet to act.

The result is that Venezuelans here continue to be deported to a country consumed by chaos. In 2018, some 330 were removed from the States, an annual increase of more than 30 percent. Meanwhile, the United States has not resettled a single Venezuelan refugee since 2013 and does not appear to be accepting applications from displaced Venezuelans.

In May, the federal government barred all passenger and cargo flights to and from Venezuela for alleged security reasons. Two months earlier, Trump broke diplomatic ties with Venezuela and closed the U.S. embassy in Caracas, forcing Venezuelans to apply for visas in neighboring countries such as Colombia. Both moves put new pressure on the regime of strongman Nicolás Maduro. They were also a blow to countless Venezuelans struggling to survive in their country or looking to escape.

"This administration's latest double talk reaffirms what it's been doing along for Venezuelan migrants, which, simply put, is nothing," says Helene Villalonga, president of the Association of Venezuelan Mothers and Women Abroad (AMAVEX). "There are Venezuelans here in Miami with family and friends who have solicited asylum at the border. This affects us all."

The Trump administration has gone ahead with the new rule without any approval from the governments of Mexico and Guatemala. Neither country has made announcements as to whether it will grant protections to asylum seekers turned back by the new rule.

"What hurts me is the reality that Venezuelans unable to apply for asylum will try to enter the country illegally," Villalonga says. "We've seen how dangerous those crossings can be."

Lawmakers have piled onto the new rule, including Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who tweeted about its implications for displaced Venezuelans.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Tuesday evening to halt implementation of the rule. Recent reports suggest that even top U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials doubt the law will be in effect for long. 
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Manuel Madrid is a former staff writer for Miami New Times. The child of Venezuelan immigrants, he grew up in Pompano Beach. He studied finance at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a writing fellow for the magazine The American Prospect in Washington, D.C.

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