The Biden administration is looking to increase the number of deportation flights carrying illegal immigrants to Venezuela, as migrant numbers have broken records at the southern border – and it is unclear when a deal can be reached on border security in Washington.
In a call with reporters on Tuesday evening, senior administration officials said they commended Mexico for beginning deportation flights to Venezuela in the last week, which echoes a similar move by the U.S. to begin flights to Mexico in October.
The move comes as U.S. and Mexican officials met last week to discuss the migration challenges facing the two countries, a meeting that officials described as productive, but that drew scrutiny from Republicans for the inclusion of talks about the “benefits” of “regularizing” illegal immigrants already in the country.
Officials on Tuesday said that Mexico has taken “enhanced enforcement operations” to decongest the border region, which will allow ports of entry to re-open on Thursday at locations in Eagle Pass, Texas, San Ysidro, California, Lukeville, Arizona and Nogales, Arizona.
Officials said they had seen increased enforcement in Mexico, leading to a decrease in encounters in recent days, as well as increased security on trains to stop migrants using them to head to the border.
“We’ve seen Mexico really step up in terms of taking actions, and so that’s been greatly appreciated,” one official said.
However, any drop in encounters comes after December shattered records for migrant encounters, with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sources telling Fox News that there were over 302,000 encounters – which includes illegal immigrants and migrants appearing at ports of entry. The previous record was set in September, when there were 269,000 encounters.
That comes at the end of a calamitous year at the border, which saw daily records broken repeatedly and an FY 23 which broke the all-time record for yearly encounters with 2.4 million encounters.
It’s led to enormous political pressure on the Biden administration from not only Republicans but also state and local Democratic officials who have seen migrants flooding into cities like New York, Chicago and Denver. There, mayors have demanded more funding and more federal action.
Republicans have blamed the crisis on the administration’s policies and called on it to impose stricter limits on asylum and limit the use of humanitarian parole. A supplemental funding request containing aid for the border as well as Ukraine and Israel is currently being held up as lawmakers try to come to an agreement. Any limits on asylum are likely to face fierce opposition from left-wing Democrats.
The administration has dismissed the Republican narrative that it has fueled the crisis with “open border” policies. Officials have said they are increasing consequences for illegal entry, while also expanding “lawful migration pathways” and on Tuesday said it has conducted more than 460,000 returns of illegal immigrants since Title 42 ended in May, more removals than in all of FY 19.
One official on Tuesday said that “we do have the intention of ramping up repatriation flights to Venezuela” and that the administration sees it as a “critical part” of the broader immigration strategy.
“It’s an important deterrent,” they said.
On the ongoing talks with Congress about the supplemental funding request, which includes $14 billion for the border, the administration struck an optimistic tone.
“Our negotiations with the Senate continued over the holidays, and we continue to be encouraged by the progress being made. And while we are not there yet, we believe we are moving in the right direction,” one official said.
Fox News’ Bill Melugin and Griff Jenkins contributed to this report.
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