Venezuelan migrants hoping to enter the United States from Mexico on Friday protested a new U.S. program granting legal entry to 24,000 people from the crisis-wracked country while deporting all those who cross the southern border illegally.
In Matamoros, a Mexican city across the border from Brownsville, Texas, some 70 Venezuelans with their hands painted white marched in chains on the Gateway International Bridge, asking to be allowed on U.S. soil.
The demonstrators, part of the first group of deportees under the new immigration rules, wore the uniforms of the detention centers where they were held before being transferred back to Mexico.
Washington and Mexico City on Wednesday announced an agreement that would allow 24,000 Venezuelans to enter the United States if they can prove they have sponsorship, and only if they fly into the country.
As part of the deal, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden said it would immediately return to Mexico any Venezuelans caught crossing the border illegally.
Until now, they had been granted exceptions due to Washington’s distrust of the hard-left regime in Caracas, which it says punishes political opponents.
The program — launched a month ahead of elections — is a bid by Biden to chart a path between Democratic demands to help desperate migrants and Republican calls to stem what they paint as a “tide” of illegal migration.
The deal mirrors a controversial push by former president Donald Trump to keep Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence inside Mexico while their claims are processed.
On the verge of tears, some of the protesters said they were deceived by U.S. authorities as they had already been in the country for 10 days.
“They deceived us, saying that we were going to [the immigration office] when it was a lie (…) they didn’t tell us anything either, just walk, walk,” Jonathan Castellanos, one of the Venezuelans, told AFP.
Confused, Castellanos said he only found out he was back in Mexico because a woman who was waiting her turn to cross into the United States brought it to his attention.
“What do you mean, Mexico? And that’s when it dawned on us,” he recalls.
The group remained for about five hours on the bridge, which was shut down while U.S. authorities set up barbed wire barricades and deployed numerous border police.
After talks with the local border patrol chief, the Venezuelans left the bridge.
Some of them also accepted offers from Mexican immigration agents to be transferred to Mexico City and start their application process from there.
The number of Venezuelans seeking to reach the United States has soared amid an implosion of the economy in the leftist-ruled South American country.
Nearly 6 million Venezuelans have fled their country, with 2.4 million in neighboring Colombia, according to U.N. figures.