By Acacia Coronado And Gisela Salomon in Eagle Pass
EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — It cost Nerio two months and everything he had to get from Venezuela to the U.S., traveling mainly by foot and watching as exhausted fellow migrants were assaulted or left behind to die.
Like an increasing number of Venezuelans, Nerio undertook a dangerous journey that included traveling through Panama’s notorious jungle, the Darien Gap, and Mexico, where migrants often face extortion and threats from government officials, in hopes of a better life in the U.S.
“We know that nobody wants us to make it here,” Nerio said last month in Eagle Pass, Texas, a city of 30,000 people that is at the center of the increase in Venezuelan migrants to the U.S. He asked that his last name not be published due to fears for his safety.
Last month, Venezuelans surpassed Guatemalans and Hondurans to become the second-largest nationality stopped at the U.S. border after Mexicans. Nerio, who traveled with about a dozen others fleeing poverty and violence in Venezuela, was among them.
Venezuelans were stopped 25,349 times, up 43% from 17,652 in July and four times the 6,301 encounters in August 2021, authorities said Monday, signaling a remarkably sudden demographic shift.
An estimated 6.8 million Venezuelans have fled their country since the economy tanked in 2014, mostly to Latin America and Caribbean countries. But the U.S. economy’s relative strength since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Venezuelan migrants to look north. Also, U.S. policies and strained relations with the Venezuelan government make it extremely difficult to send them home.
Word has spread in Venezuela as more family and neighbors reach Texas and are released with notices to appear in immigration court or on humanitarian parole.
“We hope that in a few years, the problems in Venezuela will be fixed so we can return to our home country, but until then we have to be migrants and endure what this journey will mean for us,” Nerio said.
The impact is reflected in daily headlines. About 50 migrants that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis flew to the upscale Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard last week were Venezuelan, as were five of six men whom U.S. authorities found drowned in the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass in early September.
José, who asked to be identified only by his middle name due to fears for his safety, was on one of two DeSantis flights. He walked nearly three months before crossing the Rio Grande in an inflatable raft and surrendering to the Border Patrol.
While staying at a San Antonio migrant shelter, José met a woman promising at least three months of housing, a job, medical care, and free legal help. She told migrants they would be going to Washington, Chicago and other immigrant-friendly “sanctuary” cities.
“We imagined that she was a very important person, that she had lots of influence and could really help us,” said José, who needed to get to Philadelphia for a required check-in with immigration authorities at the end of September. “We believed in her. The ignorance of the immigrant.”
Yet when they reached Martha’s Vineyard, an enclave known as a summer vacation spot for former President Barack Obama, “Nobody was waiting for us, nobody knew who we were,” José, 27, said in a phone interview from a military base in Cape Cod, where Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker moved them on Friday.
A Venezuelan family in Boston offered a room and food to José, who earned $20 a month as a garbage collector in Caracas and left his two children behind with his grandparents. He will let U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement know his new address and move his appointment with the agency to Boston.
“Now we are free, we can go anywhere we want,” said José. “I feel blessed by God.”
Venezuela has one of the world’s highest inflation rates and about three-quarters of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day, an international standard for extreme poverty. The monthly minimum wage, paid in bolivars despite a dollar-driven economy, is the equivalent of $15. Many lack access to clean, running water and electricity.
The pandemic made jobs across Latin America and Caribbean countries more scarce, and the U.S. more attractive as a place to live. At the same time, the United States’ strained relationship with Venezuela’s government makes it extremely challenging to expel Venezuelan migrants under a pandemic rule known as Title 42, which U.S. officials invoke to deny people a chance at seeking asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Mexico, under pressure from the Biden administration, introduced restrictions on air travel to limit Venezuelan migration to the United States, but many then shifted to the dangerous land journey.
Cuba and Nicaragua have also sent more migrants to the U.S. in the last year. Overall, migrants were stopped 203,597 times on the border in August, or 2.15 million times since October, topping 2 million for the first time in a government fiscal year.
Asked about immigration Tuesday, Biden said: “What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The ability to send them back to those states is not rational.”
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro responded by saying the U.S. was “trying to politically use the suffering of a group of the Venezuelan population that, faced with sanctions and the economic war, made a personal decision to emigrate to other places.”
“North American imperialism tried to destroy our country and collapse it and Joe Biden appears today attacking Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” Maduro said during an event televised on state media.
Salomon reported from Miami. Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas, Venezuela, and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed.
Prairie premiers, governors urge Canada, U.S. to keep border crossings open longer
Washington – Canada’s Prairie premiers and two U.S. governors want their respective countries to restore pre-pandemic operating hours at entry points along their shared land border.
The group of provincial and state leaders have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden to argue that curtailed hours at border crossings are hurting the economy.
The letter is signed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, as well as Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
It says travellers and businesses are being forced to go out of their way to find entry points with longer hours, driving up fuel and labour costs.
The leaders say that’s also hurting smaller border communities along the Canada-U.S. border that depend on international traffic for their economic livelihoods.
The letter does not mention that the U.S. still requires visiting foreign nationals to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a requirement Canada lifted over the weekend.
“Residents and businesses on both sides of the border have expressed concern that the reduced hours of operation will become permanent,” the letter reads.
It also argues that the supply chain problems that have persisted since the onset of COVID-19 in 2020 will only linger so long as cross-border trade and travel remains curtailed by limited hours at border crossings.
“Resuming pre-pandemic operating hours will ensure the efficient and steady flow of people and goods, which will only improve trade activity and reduce inflationary pressure on both sides of the border.”
A notice on the Canada Border Services Agency website warns of limited operating hours at nearly 40 land ports of entry, mostly in the Prairie provinces, along with Quebec, New Brunswick and B.C.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2022.
UN: 5.7 million Pakistani flood victims to face food crisis
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The United Nations humanitarian agency is warning that about 5.7 million Pakistani flood survivors will face a serious food crisis in the next three months, as the death toll from the deluge rose on Monday.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority reported that floods fueled by abnormally heavy monsoon rains have killed 1,695 people, affected 33 million, damaged more than 2 million homes and displaced hundreds of thousands now living in tents or makeshift homes.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its latest report Saturday said the current floods are expected to exacerbate food insecurity in Pakistan and said 5.7 million people in flood-affected areas will be facing a food crisis between September and November.
Even before the floods, according to the World Health Organization, 16% of the population was living in moderate or severe food insecurity.
However, Pakistan’s government insists that there is no immediate worry about food supplies, as wheat stocks are enough to last through the next harvest and that the government is importing more.
The U.N. agency said in a tweet on Monday that the agency and other partners have scaled up their flood response and delivered aid to 1.6 million people directly affected by the deluges.
OCHA said outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases are on the rise in Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces, where floods have caused the most damage since mid-June.
Several countries and U.N. agencies have sent more than 131 flights carrying aid for survivors, but many are complaining they have either received too little help or are still waiting for it.
The U.N. humanitarian agency also said in its Saturday report that rainfall in Baluchistan and Sindh lightened substantially over the past week, as temperatures start to decrease ahead of winter.
“Normal conditions are prevailing in most districts of Baluchistan, while in Sindh, the Indus River is flowing normally,” said OCHA. Overall, it added, in 18 out of 22 districts of Sindh, floodwater levels had receded at least 34%, and in some districts up to 78%.
The OCHA report also highlighted the ordeal of flood survivors, saying many continue to live in “unsanitary conditions in temporary shelters, often with limited access to basic services, compounding the risk of a major public health crisis.”
It said pregnant women are being treated in temporary camps when possible, and nearly 130,000 pregnant women need urgent health services.
“Already before the floods, Pakistan had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia, with the situation likely to deteriorate,” it said.
The U.N. is due to issue a revised appeal seeking an additional $800 million from the international community to respond to the soaring life-saving needs of Pakistani flood survivors. The U.N. said last week that “food is being delivered to vulnerable families; however, it is still not enough to meet the nutrition needs of the people.”
Pakistan says floods caused about $30 billion of damage to its economy.
Floods washed away thousands of kilometers of roads, destroyed 440 bridges, and disrupted railroad traffic.
Pakistan Railways said it has started restoring train service from Sindh to other cities after repairing some of the tracks damaged by floods.
Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press
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