U.S. to expel Venezuelan migrants to Mexico under joint plan

MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - U.S. and Mexican officials have agreed to a plan to curb rising numbers of Venezuelans crossing their shared border that will enable the United States to expel Venezuelans to Mexico while also granting humanitarian access to thousands of them by air.

The latest scheme to contain illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border was announced on Wednesday less than a month before midterm elections in the United States that threaten to deprive Democratic President Joe Biden of his party's control of Congress.

From Oct. 12, U.S. authorities will begin managing access of 24,000 Venezuelan migrants by air, the two governments said in a statement.

"These actions make clear that there is a lawful and orderly way for Venezuelans to enter the United States, and lawful entry is the only way," U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

"Those who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally will be returned to Mexico and will be ineligible for this process in the future."

Biden has struggled politically to cope with record migrant detentions at the U.S. southwest border, a phenomenon fueled by an increase in people coming from Venezuela, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua.

His Republican adversaries, who are seeking to gain control of Congress in Nov. 8 elections, have criticized what they view as Biden's failure to secure the border.

The U.S.-Mexico plan will be based on the "Uniting for Ukraine" program, the two governments said. Under that program, following Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainians could enter the United States by securing a sponsor and applying from outside the country.

The timeframe for the admissions of Venezuelans was unclear, and on a call with reporters, U.S. officials did not explain how they arrived at the number of 24,000.

Mexico, meanwhile, said that to cope with increased flows, it would "temporarily" allow some Venezuelan nationals to enter Mexico through the U.S. border, without specifying a number.

More than 150,000 Venezuelans were picked up at the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2021 and August 2022, according to U.S. government data. That compares to nearly 48,000 Venezuelans apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in the 2021 fiscal year.

Mexican officials argue that economic sanctions against the government of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro are fueling illegal immigration, and should be eased.

The United States was already expelling hundreds of Venezuelans to Mexico before the plan was announced, a Mexican official said. U.S. statistics show 453 Venezuelan expulsions for August, the most recent data publicly available.

To qualify for the new entry program, a person or organization based in the United States must support the applicant's request, and they would enter U.S. territory by air.

Those seeking to apply must not go to the U.S.-Mexico border, Mexico's government said. Venezuelans who enter Mexico or Panama illegally from Oct. 12 will not be eligible for the program, U.S. officials said.

At Mexico's request, the United States will provide an additional 65,000 temporary visas to migrants for non-agricultural jobs, the Mexican government said. Of those visas, 20,000 will be allocated to Central Americans and Haitians.

Reporting by Dave Graham and Ted Hesson; additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Kristina Cooke and Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Stephen Eisenhammer and Grant McCool

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