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First U.S. deportation flight lands in Venezuela under new Biden crackdown

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© An aircraft carrying Venezuelan migrants, who will be repatriated as part of an immigration enforcement process, departs from the Valley International Airport, in Harlingen, Texas, U.S. October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By Liliana Salgado and Daniel Becerril

HARLINGEN, Texas () – The first U.S. deportation flight to Venezuela under a new Biden administration initiative landed in Caracas on Wednesday, as part of a tougher approach to border enforcement as the U.S. struggles with record illegal crossings.

At an airport in Harlingen, Texas, on Wednesday morning, buses dropped Venezuelan men and women in shackles on the tarmac where they were patted down and ushered onto a charter plane, witnesses said. About 130 Venezuelans were deported, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has grappled with record numbers of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, a trend fueled by a sharp increase in Venezuelans fleeing economic and political instability in their home country exacerbated by U.S. sanctions.

More than 380,000 Venezuelans have been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally since Biden took office in 2021, up from about 2,200 in fiscal year 2019 and 1,200 in 2020.

The deportation restart comes weeks after the Biden administration granted deportation relief and work permits to nearly half a million Venezuelans who arrived in the United States on or before July 31, citing “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety.”

U.S. and Venezuelan officials said earlier this month that direct deportations would restart after being stalled for years due to diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens told reporters in Texas that migrants should use legal pathways to enter the U.S. or schedule an appointment to approach a legal border crossing rather than cross illegally.

“The message is simple. If you want to come to this country, do it the right way,” Owens said.

Corey Price, a senior ICE official, said that the agency aimed to send several deportation flights to Venezuela per week.

On Tuesday, Venezuela’s government and its political opposition agreed to electoral guarantees for 2024 presidential elections. reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration plans to provide some sanctions relief for Venezuela’s oil and gas sector in response.

Earlier this month, immigration advocates criticized the move to ramp up deportations to Venezuela.

Jennifer Piper, a Colorado program director with the American Friends Service Committee, called it “deeply cruel and deadly” and urged the Biden administration “to end deportations to dangerous locations immediately.”

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