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Four ideas to ease the Venezuelan migrant crisis

There are 6.8 million Venezuelans abroad, equivalent to 20 percent of the Venezuelan population. It is unfair to describe that crisis as ‘illegal migration.’

Venezuelan migrants run as they cross the Rio Grande into the United States to seek political asylum, as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua State, Mexico, on Sept. 12.HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP via Getty Images

After last week’s surprise arrival of about 50 Venezuelan migrants on Martha’s Vineyard — in a political stunt by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida — there is a discussion to determine if this relocation plan is legal. Eventually, there could be a statute, rule, or plan that allows governors to take exceptional measures on migration. But the real question is not about the legality of this relocation but its compatibility with human rights.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — whose jurisdiction includes the United States — has concluded that Venezuela is facing a complex humanitarian emergency due to the predatory policies implemented by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Therefore, the Venezuelan displacements must be treated as a humanitarian crisis. The countries that receive massive flows of Venezuelan citizens must adopt collective measures of protection compatible with human dignity.


The label “illegal migrants” ignores the humanitarian nature of Venezuela’s crisis. Venezuelans didn’t decide to leave their country — and with it, their homes, families, and a fundamental part of their life — to enter the United States or any other country, violating border regulation. They are refugees and had to leave Venezuela, escaping from Maduro’s oppressive dictatorship. As a result, there are 6.8 million Venezuelan abroad, equivalent to 20 percent of the Venezuelan population. It is unfair to describe that crisis as “illegal migration.” As refugees, they have the right to remain in the United States based on the non-devolution principle, as the Commission concluded.

The relocation plan adopted by DeSantis and other Republican governors is a forced displacement of vulnerable Venezuelan people. International law generally prohibits forced displacements because they violate humanitarian standards that apply to crises like Venezuela. Venezuelan people deserve humane treatment and should not be forcibly transported under misleading offers.


However, debating the legality of the Venezuelan migrants’ status and the governor’s relocation plan is largely irrelevant. As Thomas Aquinas said, an unjust law is no law at all. The forced transportation of Venezuelans is an unjust act that violates humanitarian standards and results in denigrating treatment.

Because the Venezuelan crisis is a recurrent problem, it is necessary to design a comprehensive plan. Here are four ideas.

First, it is necessary to prevent more inhumane forced displacement, for instance, through injunctions based on “eternal principles of justice and international law” US courts have already recognized that Venezuela faces a complex humanitarian emergency that requires protective measures for vulnerable humans.

Second, the temporary status protection for the Venezuelan people should be amended to redesignate Venezuelan and include the displaced people who arrived after the original Temporary Protection Status was granted. Barriers to entry create incentives for irregular flows, preventing socio-economic integration.

Third, the United States needs a humanitarian and holistic strategy toward the Venezuelan crisis of refugees and migrants, as part of the regional approach, following the Los Angeles Declaration and the principles of humanity and international solidarity, summarized in the Global Compact on Refugees.

And finally, the United States must reinforce efforts to tackle the root causes of the Venezuelan crisis. As Marcela Escobari, the assistant administrator for the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, recently highlighted, “the Maduro regime is the root cause of the Venezuelan migrant crisis. So long as Maduro continues to undermine all democratic institutions and exert full control over the population, the outflow will continue.” While the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela persists, the human flow of displaced people will not stop.


Labeling the Venezuelan displaced people as “illegal migrants” and implementing denigratory forced transportation will not stop the outflows. It will aggravate the suffering of the Venezuelan people and increase the complex tasks that require a comprehensive and holistic strategy for the Venezuela humanitarian crisis. This strategy will not be easy. But it will be an an act of justice.

José Ignacio Hernández G. is a law professor at Andrés Bello Catholic University Andrés Bello in Venezuela and a visiting fellow at the Growth Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School.