The Biden administration has made limited exceptions to sanctions on a Venezuelan airline to help facilitate deportation flights from Canada and Latin America of Venezuelan illegal immigrants to the socialist country.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has authorized transactions for Conviasa, a Venezuelan national airline, to allow otherwise-sanctioned transactions, including repairs, for aircraft belonging to the state airline for deportation flights.
The airline was sanctioned by the Trump administration, with officials saying the Maduro regime uses the airline “to shuttle corrupt regime officials around the world to fuel support for its anti-democratic efforts.” The sanctions include anyone who interacts with the airline.
The move by the Treasury Department does not lift those sanctions, and the airline remains sanctioned, but the authorization does allow a limited exception for “all transactions ordinarily incident and necessary to the repatriation of Venezuelan nationals from non-U.S. jurisdictions in the Western Hemisphere to Venezuela,” per the Office of Foreign Assets Control. The move was first reported by the Miami Herald.
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It’s part of a more aggressive push by the administration to curb illegal migration from Venezuela, which has been one of the top sources of migrants in recent years. The Department of Homeland Security announced in October that it was starting deportation flights directly to Venezuela as the U.S. deals with a surge in encounters of Venezuelan migrants at the southern border.
Previously, the U.S. had an agreement with Mexico whereby some Venezuelans could be repatriated to Mexico. The Herald reported last month that around 650 migrants have so far been returned on the flights.
DHS says that since May, when the Title 42 public health order ended, the U.S. has repatriated over 12,000 Venezuelans.
The direct deportations to Venezuela drew criticism from immigrant activists, who warned that the country is not safe – something DHS itself acknowledged when it extended deportation protections to nearly 500,000 Venezuelans already in the U.S. in September.
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“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,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a press release in September. “That is the situation that Venezuelans who arrived here on or before July 31 of this year find themselves in.”
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The agency says that individuals have an opportunity to raise protection concerns and are not returned to Venezuela if they are determined to be at risk of persecution or torture on their return. It has also noted that the U.S. already removes non-citizens to other countries with temporary protected status designations.
The U.S. also allows in Venezuelan migrants via a humanitarian program for nationals from four countries. Up to 30,000 nationals are allowed to fly into the U.S. via parole each month as part of the administration’s expanded “lawful” pathways. But Republicans have accused the administration of abusing the parole authority and are seeking to limit it.
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