In May, a day after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro won re-election in a vote widely denounced as fraudulent, President Trump approved new economic sanctions against the country, issuing a statement calling on Maduro’s government to “restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people.”
Trump’s much-discussed fondness for authoritarians and strongmen generally doesn’t apply to Latin American leftists and especially not to the stridently anti-American Maduro. Trump has even publicly suggested using a “military option” to deal with the Venezuelan government and reportedly asked his top foreign policy advisers repeatedly about the possibility of invading the country.
That’s a preposterous idea, but Maduro’s government, which has presided over growing political repression as well as a stunning economic collapse that has created a malnutrition crisis in the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, is certainly a worthy target of criticism. But there’s one thing Trump won’t do for the people of Venezuela: let them into the United States.
More than 7 percent of Venezuela’s population has fled the country since 2014, a population of more than 2.3 million people. Already one of the world’s largest refugee crises, the outflow of Venezuelans is putting a political and economic strain on neighboring countries, which have taken in the majority of the migrants. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of Venezuelans are seeking asylum in the U.S. as well. The AP reports that there were nearly 28,000 Venezuelan asylum petitions to the U.S. in 2017, a 50 percent increase from a year earlier, and five times as many as in 2015. But a majority of those claims that have come before judges are believed to have been denied on the basis that, in the words of one immigration lawyer, “the general violence, the chaos, the economy aren’t enough” for asylum-seekers to make the case that they face an imminent threat if they return home. Meanwhile, the U.S. deported more Venezuelans in the first half of this year than all of last year. A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defended the deportations, saying that “migrants know they can exploit a broken system to enter the U.S., avoid removal, and remain in the country.”
If you think this characterization of asylum-seekers seems at odds with the administration’s harsh criticism of the Maduro regime’s repression, you’re not alone. Marcos Guada, a businessman who had been active in opposition politics and fled to the U.S. in 2010 but was deported in July, told the AP he had sought asylum because of its criticism of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez: “The American government is two-faced. … They say one thing and do another.”
Of course, Venezuelans are far from alone in this predicament. Trump may regularly decry Latin America’s MS-13 gang, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and ISIS as butchers and murderers, but that doesn’t mean his administration will welcome their victims.
The most galling case of this paradox may be Iran. As the Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian recently pointed out,
If you look at the numbers, Trump’s travel ban could be described more accurately as an “Iran ban.” Of the total of those likely to be affected, Iranians make up the majority.
Last year, there were 17,000 students from the list of banned countries studying in American colleges and universities. More than 12,000 them were Iranian.
This policy has become all the more counterproductive since the Trump administration has adopted the language of democracy promotion and (very nearly) regime change in regard to Iran and attempted to position itself as an ally of anti-government protesters in the country.
As with Venezuela, the very people most likely to share the U.S. government’s antipathy to the regime are the ones its immigration policies are shutting out.