Affluent residents of South American countries suffering economic woes are jetting to Mexico and mixing in with the crowds of poor migrants crossing into the US illegally, according to a report.
The economic conditions in countries like Brazil and Venezuela are forcing some middle-class residents to fly to the border and join other migrants fleeing poverty and crime to seek asylum in the US, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The US government doesn’t track the financial status of migrants, but Chris T. Clem, the chief Border Patrol agent in Yuma, Ariz., told the Journal that federal officials are encountering people who flew to a Mexican border city almost every day.
“They got off the plane and went to a cab or to a bus,” Clem said of the well-heeled illegal immigrants. “They literally were driven up and just walked up and turned themselves over to us.”
The ravages of the pandemic and the havoc it wreaked on the economies of many countries are spurring some well-to-do people to seek refuge in the US who wouldn’t have made the trek before.
“The global recession really made people lose hope,” Andrew Selee, president of the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute, told the Journal. “It’s a big deal to go from being middle class in your country to be undocumented in the United States.”
While economic growth in South America and the Caribbean has rebounded slightly since 2020, the recovery has been slower than in other markets and the continuing coronavirus crisis threatens to hinder new gains, the International Monetary Fund said.
More than 26 million jobs were lost in the region because of the pandemic, the IMF report said.
It also said per-capita income will not catch up to its pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
Like other migrants seeking asylum in the US, those from South America are sent to shelters and then to their final destinations while they wait for the immigration process to play out in the courts.
But unlike their poorer counterparts from Central America and Haiti, the middle-class illegal immigrants leave the shelters soon after arriving.
Recently, the report said, about a dozen people from Venezuela — a mix of adults and teenagers — walked up to the border in Yuma after crossing the Colorado River.
They said they had taken three flights and a bus to get to the Mexican border city of Algodones before walking through a gap in the border fence into the US.
They said they traveled two days to get there — a stark contrast to the months other illegal immigrants from Haiti or Central America take on their journeys.
A number of Brazilian illegal immigrants were released the next day to a welcome center in Tucson.
“We were informed by others about the process they took,” Silvana Ribiero de Santos, a 33-year-old mother, told the Journal about her family’s decision to fly to Mexico. “In my country it is very bad. [People] don’t have anything.”
South American migrants can’t fly into an American airport and seek asylum because they are usually required to have a valid American visa to board a US-bound flight.
Visas are only being issued in Brazil in emergency cases and US diplomatic offices in Venezuela are closed.
Mexico doesn’t require visas for travelers from Brazil or Venezuela.