EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Venezuelan migrants camping along the Rio Grande are trying to distance themselves from a Monday incursion into the United States repelled by border agents in El Paso firing pepper balls.
The U.S. Border Patrol on Monday said a group of Venezuelan nationals attempted an illegal entry into the United States during a protest along the Rio Grande. One of the protesters assaulted an agent with a flagpole while a second subject threw a rock, injuring an agent. The Border Patrol responded with “crowd control” measures aimed at the alleged attackers, the agency said.
“Our actions have always been peaceful. We are not in agreement with people who throw rocks at (U.S. Border Patrol) agents,” said Jorge Formayor, a Venezuelan staying at the camp on the Juarez, Mexico, side of the river. “There was also a person who insisted during a march to cross the (Venezuelan) flag to the other side. We should understand that is an invasion of another country and shows a lack of respect for the other country.”
“I did not agree with that action,” added Miguel, another Venezuelan. “I did not participate. They let themselves be moved around by a Mexican (activist) who organized it. All of that just hurts all of us, hurts our image.”
The Venezuelan identified the activist as “Roberto” but said they knew little about him. Border Report asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection if they detained or were aware of such an activist and is awaiting a response.
A large group of Venezuelan migrants set up the tent camp on the south side of the river after the Biden administration on Oct. 12 made citizens from Venezuela amenable to Title 42 expulsions if they cross the border illegally. The administration simultaneously set up a program to legally admit up to 24,000 Venezuelans who apply for asylum remotely.
But thousands who ventured into Panama’s dangerous Darien Gap or crossed into Mexico after that date were either unaware of the new policy or just kept going north regardless. As of a census conducted by camp leaders last weekend, some 500 Venezuelans are sleeping in the tents on the Mexican side of the levee.
On Tuesday morning, an El Paso activist visited the camp on a fact-finding mission into the incident. Later, the group he represents issued a statement demanding an investigation into the use of force by the Border Patrol.
“Once again, we witness the troubling and frustrating humanitarian crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border unleash conflict and unnecessary violence. We condemn the violence and use of force against immigrants and asylum seekers, regardless of who generated it,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights.
Garcia said the Biden administration’s sudden about-face on lawfully processing Venezuelan asylum-seekers and instead subjecting them to Title 42 expulsions is baffling.
“Many of these asylum seekers are unable to return to their countries. Instead of providing a fair opportunity for them to be heard and present their asylum cases in immigration court, this administration continues to fail them by violating international law and expelling them to a dangerous fate,” Garcia said. “By insisting on illegally using the Title 42 health order as an excuse, (the administration) is admitting to a failing immigration system.”
The Venezuelans on Tuesday held yet another demonstration along the river, holding green-and-black signs urging Biden to end Title 42 expulsions. Border Report witnessed Venezuelan camp organizers urging the demonstrators to remain peaceful and respectful toward the U.S. agents across the river as American reporters and visiting activists watched closely. One of their signs said, “Los buenos somos mas” (The good ones are the majority).
Later, an El Paso Methodist pastor came to the camp offering assistance and hoping to diffuse tensions through prayer.
“We’re setting up a big tent where we’re going to host music and prayer. And at night, people can sleep here instead of being outside or in those small tents they have,” said the Rev. Rosalio Sosa, of Tierra de Oro (Land of Gold) church in El Paso.
Sosa, who runs migrant shelters in northwestern Chihuahua, said he regrets the Monday afternoon confrontation taking away attention from the migrants’ legitimate plight. Most are fleeing not only poverty but the Nicolas Maduro regime that cracks down hard on any opposition. The pastor, too, blamed Mexican activists for bringing large flags and inciting the Venezuelans to cross the border.
“It was an event that the officers took as aggression, with screaming and stuff. […] We talked to the Venezuelans here at the camp. They’re very embarrassed. That’s not the way they think, that’s not what they want. They want peace and they’re waiting on God’s time” to lawfully state their asylum claims, Sosa said.
Marimar, a Venezuelan optometrist who has spent three nights in the tents by the river, said she plans to cross the border after the Nov. 8 U.S. elections.
“If I had known they were going to change the policy, I would not have come north,” she said from inside a tiny blue canvass tent. “This is very hard. We are not used to this climate, and getting food or going to the bathroom is an ordeal. But we have to stay here to show resolve. It is a test. We must not lose faith.”
The woman said she migrated from Venezuela to Ecuador a few years ago due to low salaries and political favoritism in her country.
“If I had a minute with Biden, I would tell him we are hard-working people, we want to get ahead and we don’t give up,” Marimar said. “You see what we are going through here. Imagine what we can do if only we were across (the border).”