Colombia asks for legal status for its people already in US

BOGOTA, 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 2 million Venezuelans who have fled their homes.

Colombia’s ambassador to the US, Luis Alberto Murillo Urrutia, said Gustavo Petro, elected Colombia’s first left-wing president in June, has committed to his predecessor’s “incredibly liberal policies,” which include temporary status for 1.8 million people who fled neighboring Venezuela.

But diplomats asked for United States help, saying that in addition to Venezuelans and workers, more than 80,000 migrants pass through Colombia to other countries each year.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Colombians ask President Joe Biden to grant a temporary status called Deferred Enforced Departure to Colombians already in the US.

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“Migration is a regional issue that must be addressed under the principle of shared responsibility, strengthening regional cooperation to ensure the regularization of migration,” Murillo Urrutia wrote in a letter dated November 17 and released Tuesday by Colombian officials.

That language echoes an agreement Biden made in Los Angeles in June with Western Hemisphere countries, including Colombia, under then-President Ivan Duke. The “Los Angeles Declaration” is billed as a guideline for countries to host large numbers of migrants and refugees.

The White House and the Department of Homeland Security had no immediate comment late Tuesday on Columbia’s request.

It is unclear how many Colombians live in the United States without legal status. The Immigration Policy Institute estimates 171,000 in 2019 but tens of thousands have arrived at the U.S. border with Mexico this year, many of them released to pursue their cases in immigration court.

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US authorities have stopped Colombians 131,890 times at the Mexican border in the first 10 months of this year, including 17,195 times in October, making them one of the largest nationalities at the border. Some are subject to Trump-era asylum restrictions, which apply mostly to immigrants Mexico agrees to take in — Guatemalans, Hondurans, El Salvadorans and, more recently, Venezuelans, along with Mexicans.

About 2 million Colombians live in the United States, Murillo Urretia said, without elaborating on their immigration status. They fled decades-old conflicts that the new government 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 in which they operate.

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“For more than 60 years, millions of Colombian citizens have been forced to leave the country because of the conflict to rebuild their lives, many of the recent arrivals are still vulnerable and unsafe in the United States,” wrote Murillo Urrutia. .

The Biden administration has extended temporary status to some countries and added Afghanistan, Ukraine, Myanmar, Cameroon and Venezuela, reversing a Trump-era trend to cut protections for those already in the United States.

A Colombian diplomat said his government’s goal is “to return our people to Colombia in a dignified manner if they have the legal means to choose or adjust their immigration status in the United States.”

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Spagot reports from San Diego, California.

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