Biden Admin Working With Panama, Columbia to Stop Illegal Migration Through Darién Gap

Biden Admin Working With Panama, Columbia to Stop Illegal Migration Through Darién Gap
Haitian migrants cross the jungle of the Darien Gap, near Acandi, Choco department, Colombia, heading to Panama, on their way trying to reach the United States, on Sept. 26, 2021. (Raul Arboleda/Getty Images)

The Biden administration has announced new joint efforts with the governments of Panama and Columbia to prevent illegal migration through the treacherous Darién Gap that connects North America to South America.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a joint statement on Tuesday, along with Panamanian Foreign Minister Janaina Tewaney and Colombian Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán, stating the three countries would work together over a 60-day period to “end the illicit movement of people and goods through the Darién by both land and maritime corridors, which leads to death and exploitation of vulnerable people for significant profit.”

The Darién Gap is situated in the southern part of Panama, which is situated to the north of Columbia. The Darién route has been a major source of immigrant traffic in recent months.

According to Panama’s government, more than 87,000 immigrants crossed the Darién Gap in the first three months of this year, coming mostly from Venezuela, Haiti, and Ecuador. That’s up from nearly 14,000 immigrants over the same period last year.

Last year, set a record for immigrants using the Darien route, with nearly 250,000. Venezuelans accounted for some 60 percent of the immigrants crossing there last year.

The trilateral statement did not provide details about how the three governments would stem the mass flow of illegal migration through the Darién Gap. The three countries instead said they would “open new lawful and flexible pathways for tens of thousands of migrants and refugees as an alternative to irregular migration.”

The three countries announced they would also “launch a plan to reduce poverty, improve public service delivery, create jobs, and promote economic and sustainable opportunities in border communities in northern Colombia and southern Panamá, through international partnerships across financial institutions, civil society, and the private sector.”

Dangers In the Darién Gap

The Darién Gap is among the most dangerous portions of the journey from South America to the U.S. southern border. The dangers along the route include venomous wildlife like the fer-de-lance pit viper, dangerous elements like rushing rivers, and human threats like robbers. Migrants and international human rights groups have denounced sexual assaults, robberies, and killings in the remote jungle region.

Criminal networks have also reportedly used the Darién Gap in their drug smuggling and human trafficking operations.

During President Donald Trump’s last year in office, the U.S. blocked migrants from entering the United States through a pandemic-era interpretation of Title 42 of the U.S. Code. With the Biden administration seeking to wind down Title 42, the incentives may be heightened for people considering making the dangerous journey from South America to the United States.

The Biden administration may now be looking at the Darién Gap as a key choke point to stop people from risking the long and dangerous journey.

Biden Admin Efforts to Address Illegal Immigration

The joint effort between the three nations comes as the United States responded to a record-high number of crossings at the southern border last year. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data indicates that U.S. officials apprehended or turned back about 2.38 million people at the border in fiscal year 2022, which ended on Sept. 30.

In October, the Biden administration began using the pandemic-related rule known as Title 42 to deny Venezuelans the chance to request asylum at the border. In turn, the Biden administration rolled out a parole program to accept as many as 24,000 Venezuelans a month from among those who had already applied and been pre-approved through a government online application called CBP One.

That program was expanded to Nicaragua, Haiti, and Cuba in January, with the administration increasing the number of admissions to 30,000 a month. Under the program, migrant parolees could enter the United States and work for up to two years.

In January, Biden said the number of Venezuelans observed attempting to illegally cross the border fell from about 1,100 per day to an average of about 250 after the rollout of the new parole program and the CBP One app. In anticipation of the end of Title 42, the CBP has said it is surging personnel and resources to the Southern border and “increasing and enhancing” the use of expedited removal under Title 8 immigration authorities.

The CBP has also said the CBP One app will “help ensure safe and orderly processing at ports of entry” at the border.

While the Biden administration is leaning on its parole program and CBP one app to reduce border crossings and delays at ports of entry, large groups of migrants have flocked to the border with expectations of gaining easy entry into the United States. A large group of Venezuelan migrants gathered at an El Paso, Texas port of entry after rumors spread online that they would be rapidly processed through the U.S. asylum system and allowed into the country.

Republicans have called for greater efforts to secure the U.S. southern border and have raised the prospect of impeaching Mayorkas on charges that he lied to Congress when he said the Department of Homeland Security had “operational control” of the border.

Biden has accused Republicans of inaction on border security and immigration. In his January remarks, Biden said that Republicans refused to consider his proposals for addressing immigration reform.

“It’s clear that immigration is a political issue that extreme Republicans are always going to run on,” Biden said at the time. “But now they have a choice: They can keep using immigration to try to score political points or they can help solve the problem.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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