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HomeWorldAmid new border strains, Biden extends legal status to 470,000 Venezuelans

Amid new border strains, Biden extends legal status to 470,000 Venezuelans

The Biden administration said Wednesday it will offer temporary legal status to more than 470,000 Venezuelan migrants in the United States, announcing the move as U.S. authorities struggle to contend with a border influx in Texas that has stretched holding capacity to the brink.

Biden officials told reporters that Venezuelans who had entered the United States by July 31 would be eligible for temporary protected status, a designation that will shield them from deportation and speed up their ability to obtain U.S. work permits. The announcement was the largest expansion of temporary protected status to date, and more Venezuelans have received the designation than any other nationality, government data shows.

Officials in New York, Chicago and other northern U.S. cities where migrants have strained shelter capacity and social services have been urging Biden to expedite the work permits so newcomers can better support themselves.

More than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country during a decade of political and economic turmoil in their homeland. About 500,000 have been taken into custody at the U.S. border since 2021, the largest Venezuelan migration wave in U.S. history.

“Temporary protected status provides individuals already present in the United States with protection from removal when the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. The designation lasts 18 months and can be renewed by DHS.

Republican critics of the president’s border policies say the administration’s expanded use of temporary protected status incentivizes illegal crossings.

Roughly 243,000 Venezuelans have temporary legal status through a previous designation, according to DHS. The new protection will cover an additional 472,000 Venezuelans, including those who arrived before August through Biden’s expanded use of an immigration authority known as parole.

Biden administration officials also have been under pressure from Democratic lawmakers to grant legal status to the Venezuelans to ease tensions between the White House and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Many of the more than 60,000 migrants in the New York City shelter system are Venezuelan, and the mayor has said the influx is hammering city budgets.

Rep. Daniel S. Goldman (D-N.Y.), whose district includes part of the city, was among several Democrats who applauded what he called a “much needed executive action” that will allow the Venezuelans “to settle in our great city, fill jobs that the business community has available, and pay taxes while alleviating the untenable financial burden on the City and State.”

During a call with reporters, Biden officials said they would fast-track work permits for other newcomers and expand a conditional release program for families that uses GPS monitoring and curfews for migrants awaiting a decision on their asylum claims.

Even as administration officials announced steps to deal with the strains of the migrant influx on U.S. cities, they faced a fresh wave of newcomers along the southern border where illegal crossings have soared to their highest levels since May.

Migrants riding freight trains and crossing the U.S. southern border by the thousands have stretched U.S. agents and detention capacity to the brink in recent days, creating an emergency that is swamping Biden officials’ latest efforts to curb illegal crossings.

About 2,600 migrants streamed across the Rio Grande into Eagle Pass, Tex., on Wednesday to surrender to U.S. authorities, the first step in seeking asylum, and officials said another 2,000 were in Mexico preparing to cross. With U.S. holding cells maxed out and daytime temperatures topping 100 degrees, border agents packed the men into the shade of the international bridge and suspended truck and vehicle processing at two border crossings.

Eagle Pass Mayor Rolando Salinas, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency. A three-year-old boy drowned Wednesday afternoon after he was swept downriver while crossing with his family, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Many of the migrants arriving in Texas are being quickly processed and released into the United States, because border facilities are at full capacity and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities are 95 percent full, according to three Homeland Security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters.

In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, crowds of dust-covered families climbed out of rail cars and headed for the gates in the U.S. border wall, urging U.S. agents to allow them in.

The Biden administration has urged migrants traveling through Mexico to make an appointment to seek asylum at the U.S. border through a mobile app, CBP One.

But Venezuelans arriving in Ciudad Juárez on Wednesday said relatives who recently crossed told them they didn’t need to bother waiting.

“What is the point of the CBP appointment? My brother surrendered, and he got through. We know too many stories of people who got through without an appointment,” said Yonder Linarez, 28, who was traveling with 10 members of his extended family.

Linarez said he planned to cross the border and turn himself in to U.S. agents Wednesday evening at the border wall.

“We tried it, but it took too long,” he said. “If we’ve endured the jungle, robbery and everything else to get here, you think not having an appointment is going to stop us?”

Linarez said he was part of a group of nearly 1,000 migrants who rode atop a train for three days from Mexico City to the U.S. border.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the Biden administration had removed concertina wire in Eagle Pass placed by the state, a decision he likened to “opening the floodgates to illegal immigration.” Under U.S. law, migrants have the right to request asylum once they arrive on U.S. soil, and U.S. border agents have sometimes cleared razor wire.

“I immediately deployed more Texas National Guard to repel illegal crossings & install more razor wire,” Abbott wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

During a speech in Iowa on Wednesday, former president Donald Trump, who is a Republican presidential candidate for 2024, vowed to end “the nation-wrecking catastrophe on our southern border.”

Biden officials said the Pentagon would mobilize 800 active-duty personnel to the southern border to ease the strain on U.S. agents, adding to the 2,500 National Guard troops deployed there.

Hernández reported from El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Maria Sacchetti contributed to this report.

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