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Immigrating Venezuelans Held Up in Mexico

A young migrant from Venezuela plays with a spinning top on the railroad tracks lined by tents and makeshift shelters in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Fernando Llano/AP
A young migrant from Venezuela plays with a spinning top on the railroad tracks lined by tents and makeshift shelters in Mexico City, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

By Christoper Sheran, Elliot Spagat and Valerie Gonzalez
Adapted for radio by S. Baxter Clinton

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Venezuelan migrants often have a quick answer when asked to name the most difficult stretch of their eight-country journey to the U.S. border, and it's not the dayslong jungle trek through Colombia and Panama with its venomous vipers, giant spiders and scorpions. It's Mexico.

Daniel Ventura said, “In the jungle, you have to prepare for animals. In Mexico, you have to prepare for humans.” Ventura, 37, said this after three of days walking through the Darien Gap and four months waiting in Mexico to enter the U.S. legally using the government's online appointment system, called CBP One. He and his family of six were headed to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where he has a relative.

Mexico's crackdown on immigration in recent months — at the urging of the Biden administration — has hit Venezuelans especially hard. The development highlights how much the U.S. depends on Mexico to control migration, which has reached unprecedented levels and is a top issue for voters as President Joe Biden seeks reelection.

Arrests of migrants for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped this year after a record high in December. The biggest decline was among Venezuelans, whose arrests plummeted to 3,184 in February and 4,422 in January from 49,717 in December.

While two months do not make a trend and illegal crossings remain high by historical standards, Mexico's strategy to keep migrants closer to its border with Guatemala than the U.S. is at least temporary relief for the Biden administration.

Large numbers of Venezuelans began reaching the U.S. in 2021, first by flying to Mexico and then on foot and by bus after Mexico imposed visa restrictions. In September, Venezuelans briefly replaced Mexicans as the largest nationality crossing the border.

Mexico's efforts have included forcing migrants from trains and planes and busing them to the southern part of the country, and flying some home to Venezuela.

Last week, Mexico said it would give about $110 a month for six months to each Venezuelan it deports, hoping they won't come back. Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador extended the offer Tuesday to Ecuadorians and Colombians.

López Obrador said, "If you support people in their places of origin, the migratory flow reduces considerably, but that requires resources and that is what the United States government has not wanted to do.”

Migrants say they must pay corrupt officials at Mexico's frequent government checkpoints to avoid being sent back to southern cities. Each setback is costly and frustrating.

Yessica Gutierrez Said, “In the end, it is a business because wherever you get to, they want to take the last of what you have.”

Gutierrez, 30, left Venezuela in January in a group of 15 family members that includes young children. They avoided some checkpoints by hiking through brush.

The group is now waiting in Mexico City to get an appointment so they can legally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Shantar Baxter Clinton is the hourly News Reporter for KSFR. He’s earned an Associates of the Arts from Bard College at Simons Rock and a Bachelors in journalism with a minor in anthropology from the University of Maine.