Visa rules in Mexico don’t stop Venezuelans headed to US

Aug 25, 2022, 5:47 PM | Updated: Aug 26, 2022, 6:00 am
FILE - A Venezuelan migrant wears their national flag within a group of migrants leaving Tapachula ...

FILE - A Venezuelan migrant wears their national flag within a group of migrants leaving Tapachula by foot in Chiapas state, Mexico, early morning June 6, 2022, after the group grew tired of waiting to normalize their status in a region with little work still far from their ultimate goal of reaching the United States. When Mexico imposed a visa requirement on Venezuelans in January, it pushed the migrants onto more dangerous clandestine routes. (AP Photo/Isabel Mateos, File)

(AP Photo/Isabel Mateos, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — When Mexico imposed a visa requirement on Venezuelans in January, it briefly had the desired effect: The number of Venezuelans detained at the U.S.-Mexico border plunged. But it’s now clear that it only pushed the migrants onto more dangerous clandestine routes.

Suddenly unable to simply fly to Mexico as tourists, but still desperate to leave their country, Venezuelan migrants joined others traveling over land through the dense, lawless jungle on the Colombia-Panama border.

In 2021, when Venezuelans could still fly to Cancun or Mexico City as tourists, only 3,000 of them crossed the Darien Gap — a literal gap in the Pan-American Highway that stretches along 60 miles (97 kilometers) of mountains, rainforest and rivers. So far this year, there have been 45,000, according to Panama’s National Immigration Service.

“If they can’t arrive at Mexican airports, they’re arriving by land through the Darien,” said Adam Isacson, of the Washington Office on Latin America. From there it’s just series of stops: in southern Mexico, the remote middle of the Mexico-U.S. border and then a final destination in the U.S., usually on the East Coast.

Such visa requirements can stop some migrants — the pace of Brazilians and Ecuadorans slowed after Mexico imposed them last year — but not others, Isacson said. “It has to do with the level of desperation,” he said.

Venezuela’s economy has collapsed under a combination of mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. The minimum wage for public employees has fallen to the equivalent of $2 a month. Monthly salaries in the private sector average $75. Some of the Venezuelans arriving in the U.S. now, left Venezuela years ago, spent time in other countries and are moving north now.

In December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained Venezuelans at the U.S.-Mexico border nearly 25,000 times. Mexico imposed the visa requirement in late January and in February there were barely 3,000 detentions. But that number began to rise again, slowly at first, and then sharply in June and July when detentions surpassed 17,000.

The information about the alternate route was passed among groups on platforms such as WhatsApp and through social media. Migrant smugglers who often infiltrate such groups influence the route, in this case a treacherous, yet well-established one, some 5,000 miles (8,000 kilometers) long.

Anderwis Gutiérrez, a 42-year-old construction worker, and his wife spent weeks watching videos online about crossing the Darien to judge whether they thought they could do it. When they finally made up their minds, they joined a group of 110 migrants of different nationalities. Only 75 of them emerged from the jungle together.

“They robbed us, took our money, we lasted four days without eating,” he said. “One broke his leg, another was bitten by a snake, we didn’t have medicine, we weren’t carrying anything.”

He said they saw bodies, witnessed two rapes and unable to hold back his tears said that his wife almost drowned when a swollen river carried her 100 yards downstream. “In the jungle no one helps anybody.”

Yonathan Ávila, a 34-year-old former Venezuelan National Guard soldier, traveled with his wife, their 3-year-old daughter and 4-month-old baby. In total, they were 14 relatives and friends. He believes his military training helped him lead them through without some of the tragedies that strike others.

The southern Mexico city of Tapachula near the border with Guatemala has been the second bottleneck for those traveling by land. Since the Trump administration, Mexico has employed a strategy of containment meant to keep migrants confined to the south, far from the U.S. border.

Thousands apply for asylum, but the process is lengthy and there is little work in Tapachula. Frustrated migrants have pressured the government by repeatedly walking out of the city en masse. Since June, Venezuelans have made up the majority.

The Mexican government started busing migrants to offices outside Tapachula or to other states in October for quicker processing of temporary documents and to stop the demonstrations.

Ávila led one such march and got a transit permit that allowed his family to continue north. A foundation also helped because his baby was sick. Gutiérrez got a humanitarian visa.

“To appease them, the National Immigration Institute is giving them passes,” Isacson said.

Venezuelans and some other nationalities also pose a problem for Mexico and the United States, because they generally can’t be deported. After much negotiation, Mexico was recently able to send back more than 100.

Once out of Tapachula, the migrants travel quickly to the U.S. border, usually buying bus tickets with money sent by relatives.

According to WOLA’s analysis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 92% of the Venezuelans crossed the U.S. border at two stretches in July: Yuma, Arizona, and Del Rio, Texas.

Gutiérrez and Ávila crossed at Del Rio with their families.

Both areas are “in the middle of nowhere,” Isacson said. “That tells us that they are being guided there by someone, it can’t just be rumors circulating on WhatsApp.”

Gutiérrez and Ávila made it to the United States with their families. Gutiérrez was in Maryland, but without work or a place to sleep, he and his wife were planning to return to New York, where they had spent a couple months in a homeless shelter.

Ávila has a sales job in Boston and a charitable foundation has found them shelter and helped get treatment for his kid. Each week he has to send a photograph and his location on a cellphone U.S. immigration authorities gave him while he waits to sort out his status.

Meanwhile, he says his friends in Venezuela haven’t stopped asking him for advice to make their own journeys to the U.S. “More are coming all the time.”


AP writers Claudia Torrens in New York and Juan Zamorano in Panama City contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Katie Couric appears at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 27, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Cal...
Associated Press

Katie Couric says she’s been treated for breast cancer

NEW YORK (AP) — Katie Couric said Wednesday that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent surgery and radiation treatment this summer to treat the tumor. Couric, who memorably was tested for colon cancer on the “Today” show in 2000, announced her diagnosis in an essay on her website, saying she hoped it would […]
1 day ago
Rabbi David Wolpe speaks to congregants at Sinai Temple Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Los Angeles. One...
Associated Press

Clergy strive to reconcile politically divided congregations

One member of Rabbi David Wolpe’s diverse congregation left because Wolpe would not preach sermons criticizing Donald Trump. Scores of others left over resentment with the synagogue’s rules for combating COVID-19. But Wolpe remains steadfast in his resolve to avoid politics when he preaches at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. “It is not easy to […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Guinea opens trial over 2009 army massacre of protesters

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Guinea opened a landmark trial Wednesday 13 years after a stadium massacre by the military left at least 157 protesters dead and dozens of women raped, with the country’s former coup leader Moussa “Dadis” Camara among those charged. The court proceeding began a day after Camara and five more defendants were […]
1 day ago
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, and European Union foreign policy chief J...
Associated Press

EU eyes Russia trade sanctions over ‘sham’ Ukraine votes

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union countries should impose “biting sanctions” on Russian trade and hit officials responsible for “sham referendums” held in parts of Ukraine as Moscow ramps up the war, senior EU officials said Wednesday. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the Kremlin-orchestrated referendums on joining Russia “are an illegal attempt to […]
1 day ago
A headstone of a child who at died in the late 1800s at the Home for Destitute Children, in Burling...
Associated Press

Home for Destitute Children’s graves restored in Vermont

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Among the graves at a scenic lakeside cemetery in Vermont is a row of 51 small headstones. There’s one for Little Harry, Baby Ruth and Baby Kirk, as well as for many other children like William and Willis Colby, Ethel Fuller and Claire Wilson. The line of tombstones — less than […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Mountain lion attacks boy, 7, at Southern California park

SANTA CLARITA, Calif. (AP) — Wildlife officers were tracking a mountain lion that attacked a 7-year-old boy and prompted the closure of a sprawling Southern California park, authorities said. The child and his father were walking up stairs at Pico Canyon Park near Santa Clarita Monday evening when a cougar emerged from brush and bit […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Visa rules in Mexico don’t stop Venezuelans headed to US