By MANUEL RUEDA and ELLIOT SPAGAT, Associated Press
BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — Colombia wants the Biden administration to grant temporary legal status to its citizens now living in the United States, noting its own efforts to address regional migration by hosting two million Venezuelans who fled their homes.
Gustavo Petro, who was elected Colombia’s first leftist president in June, is committed to the “incredibly generous policies” of his predecessor, which includes temporary status for 1.8 million people who fled neighboring Venezuela, said Luis Alberto Murillo Urrutia, Colombia’s ambassador to the U.S.
But the diplomat asked the United States for help, saying that in addition to Venezuelans who stay and work, more than 80,000 migrants pass through Colombia each year on their way to other countries.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, he asked President Joe Biden to grant Colombians already in the U.S. a form of temporary status called Deferred Enforced Departure.
“Migration is a regional issue that should be addressed under the principle of shared responsibility, strengthening regional cooperation to ensure migratory regularization,” Murillo Urrutia wrote in a letter dated November 17 and released Tuesday by Colombian officials.
That language echoes an agreement that Biden struck in June in Los Angeles among Western Hemisphere countries, including Colombia under then-President Iván Duque. “The Los Angeles Declaration” was billed as a roadmap for countries to host large numbers of migrants and refugees.
The White House and Homeland Security Department had no immediate comment late Tuesday on Colombia’s request.
It is unclear how many Colombians are living in the United States without legal status. The Migration Policy Institute estimated 171,000 in 2019, but that was before tens of thousands arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico this year, many of them released to pursue their cases in immigration court.
U.S. authorities have stopped Colombians 131,890 times at the Mexican border during the first 10 months of this year, including 17,195 times in October, a sharp increase that has made them one of the largest nationalities at the border. Few have been subject to Trump-era asylum restrictions, which have largely applied to migrants that Mexico agrees to take: Guatemalans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans, and, more recently, Venezuelans, in addition to Mexicans.
Murillo Urritia said there are nearly two million Colombians living in the United States, without elaborating on their immigration status. Many fled decades-old conflicts that he said the new government is committed to ending under the 2016 peace accords.
Last week, the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army resumed peace talks after a roughly four-year hiatus during which the rebels have expanded the territory where they operate.
“For more than 60 years, hundreds of thousands of Colombian citizens have been forced to leave the country because of the conflict seeking to rebuild their lives, many of the more recently arrived still remain vulnerable and unprotected in the United States,” Murillo Urrutia wrote.
The Biden administration has extended temporary status for some countries and added Afghanistan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Cameroon, and Venezuela, reversing a Trump-era trend to cut back on protections for those already in the United States.
The Colombian diplomat said his government’s goal “is for our people to return to Colombia in a dignified manner if they choose to or adjust their immigration status in the United States if they have the legal avenues to do so.”
Spagat reported from San Diego, California.