Indirect Flights May Have Circumvented U.S. Law and Policy, Deportations Highlight Trump Administration’s Hypocrisy Towards the Victims of the Maduro Regime
WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is demanding that the Trump Administration answer questions about stealth deportations of Venezuelan nationals during fiscal year 2020 in a possible violation of U.S. law and policies. Menendez called on the Administration to immediately provide Congress with details of previously undisclosed deportations routed through Trinidad and Tobago, including information on exactly how many innocent Venezuelans were forced back to Nicolás Maduro’s murderous dictatorship and if those deportations have ceased.
“New documents provided to my office confirm that U.S. deportations to Venezuela continued via third countries at least until March 2020, while the Trump Administration has offered little assurance that it will not continue to forcibly return Venezuelans to a regime the United Nations recently stated has committed crimes against humanity,” wrote Senator Menendez to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, and the Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary for Strategy, Policy, and Plans, Chad Wolf.
The letter also expresses concern that the Administration’s deportation flights appear to have continued for many months after the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) May 2019 banned foreign air transportation of passengers to or from any airport in Venezuela. Earlier this year, Copa Airlines was fined for operating similar flights between the United States and Venezuela using Panama as a stopover point.
“U.S. law forbids the forcible return of refugees to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened, U.S. regulations have suspended all air travel to Venezuela, and U.S. foreign policy should be to counter the Maduro regime’s systematic abuses of human rights. The administration’s continued deportation of Venezuelan nationals appears to undermine these policies,” Menendez added.
Last month, for the fifth time since early 2019, Senate Republicans blocked the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019, refusing to affirm the U.S. government’s support for Venezuelans, denying legal protection to an estimated 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States, and allowing the Trump administration to continue forcefully returning them back to the Maduro regime. After being blocked, Menendez vowed to keep returning to the Senate Floor until Senate Republicans were shamed into protecting Venezuelans from the Trump Administration’s deportation forces.
A copy of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Secretary Pompeo, Secretary Chao, and Under Secretary Wolf:
I am writing to request information about U.S. deportations of Venezuelan nationals that continued surreptitiously during FY 2020 despite the Trump Administration’s admission that returns to Venezuela are not safe, and despite the flight ban imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). New documents provided to my office confirm that U.S. deportations to Venezuela continued via third countries at least until March 2020, while the Trump Administration has offered little assurance that it will not continue to forcibly return Venezuelans to a regime the United Nations recently stated has committed crimes against humanity.
In recent weeks, the State Department confirmed in writing to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deportations of Venezuelan nationals occurred via Trinidad and Tobago between January and March 2020. It is now clear that indirect deportation flights from the United States to Venezuela did not cease for many months after the FAA suspended foreign air transportation of passengers to or from any airport in Venezuela on May 15, 2019.
These newly-revealed incidents follow press reporting last year indicating that U.S. deportations to Venezuela continued on Copa Airlines flights via Panama in spite of the FAA’s suspension. When the FAA fined Copa Airlines in June 2019 for violating the flight ban, the consent order stated that Copa Airlines “relied in part on its contacts with Panamanian and other U.S. officials to understand the restrictions to serving Venezuela.” It is unclear whether these U.S. officials believed that deportation flights were exempt from the FAA’s suspension.
On February 6, 2020, the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said, “I wouldn’t say there is a complete freeze on the deportation of Venezuelans, but the number of deportations is extremely low.” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through the TRAC database shows that over 100 Venezuelans were deported this fiscal year through February, including 95 with no criminal conviction. Finally, in August, Mr. Abrams testified publicly that it would not be safe to deport Venezuelans back to Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship and that the Trump Administration “currently is not doing so.”
The Trump Administration has refused to offer available legal protection from deportation through the grant of Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States. All the while, since 2014, Venezuelan authorities and security forces have conducted arbitrary killings, systematic torture, and other serious abuses that amount to crimes against humanity, according to the UN. Given the dire humanitarian conditions and atrocities wrought by Maduro’s brutal dictatorship, U.S. deportations seriously threaten the lives and freedom of Venezuelans who are returned.
In light of concerns for both the lives of Venezuelans and the coherence of U.S. interagency policy toward Venezuela, I request your prompt response to the following questions:
U.S. law forbids the forcible return of refugees to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened, U.S. regulations have suspended all air travel to Venezuela, and U.S. foreign policy should be to counter the Maduro regime’s systematic abuses of human rights. The administration’s continued deportation of Venezuelan nationals appears to undermine these policies. I look forward to your responses to the questions above in order to shed light on these critical issues.
 Manuel Madrid, “Despite Messages of Solidarity, the U.S. Still Deports Venezuelans,” Miami New Times, September 24, 2019. Accessed on September 29, 2020 at https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/despite-trumps-well-wishes-undocumented-venezuelans-still-deported-from-miami-11273793
 U.S. Department of Transportation, Consent Order 2020-6-9 concerning Compania Panamena de Aviacion, S.A., Docket DOT-OST-2020-0001, served June 17, 2020. Accessed on September 29, 2020 at https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOT-OST-2020-0001-0002
 “Briefing with Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams,” U.S. Department of State, February 6, 2020. Accessed on September 29, 2020 at https://www.state.gov/special-representative-for-venezuela-elliott-abrams-4/
 Transcript of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on “Venezuela in Maduro’s Grasp – Assessing the Deteriorating Security and Humanitarian Situation,” August 4, 2020.
 Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Venezuela: UN report urges accountability for crimes against humanity.” Accessed on October 5, 2020 at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26247&LangID=E