Deteriorating economic and crime conditions force South American migrants to flee north

Jan 29, 2024 | 0 comments

By Matt Rivers

As the migrant crisis continues to weigh on cities across the United States, immigration advocates and international groups contend that most Americans are not aware of the depths of despair that have forced the migrants to relocate from country to country.

Extreme poverty, racism, and even violence have followed many of these South American families to whatever location they have fled due to the region’s troubled geo-political state, according to experts.

Venezuelans entering Ecuador on foot from Colombia in 2019. In Total, more than seven million have left the country with less than 400,000 returning.

Hugo Hurtado and Mileidy Navarro, a Venezuelan couple with a son and daughter, told ABC News Live that they know about those struggles too well.

Six years ago, they became part of the millions of Venezuelans who left the country for a better life following the nation’s economic decline and settled in Bogota, Colombia. Today, the family is facing more economic struggles that are forcing them to make another long arduous journey to ensure a better future for their kids.

“Who would want to leave their country, their home? No one. Circumstances force people to make those decisions,” Navarro told ABC News Live in Spanish.

Venezuela’s economy has been on a steep decline for years and after President Nicolas Maduro came into power, the crisis worsened as more people were in poverty and political unrest led to an increase in violence, experts said.

Navarro said she was pregnant with her oldest daughter when the crisis happened and she and her husband couldn’t afford to put food on their table.

Thousands of South American migrants gather at the Mexican-U.S. border.

“You look at yourself in the mirror and see how much weight you’ve lost. That’s when it hits you,” she said in Spanish.

The United Nations estimates that 7.7 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, marking the largest forced displacement in history not caused by war.

“It’s a rough path. I was knee-deep in the river,” she said in Spanish.

At first, Navarro said that things were going OK as the couple’s jobs paid enough to make ends meet. But soon she said she began to face xenophobia at work with customers refusing to even talk with her because she was Venezuelan.

Experts have noted that racism and violence against Venezuelan migrants who settled in other South American countries has increased over the years with many being attacked.

“I came here to work. I have an honest job. Why is this happening to me?” Navarro said in Spanish.

Inflation has also hurt many migrants as the cost of living has increased in many South American countries, forcing many of those Venezuelans and others to relocate again.

The U.N. Refugee Agency estimated that half of Venezuelans living in South America can’t afford three meals a day and lack access to safe housing.

Navarro and Hurtado both work six days but they have been struggling financially. The situation forced Hurtado to head north to the United States, try and find a job and send for the rest of the family once he settled.

But the plan hit a roadblock when they shut the border down when he got to Mexico, according to Navarro.

“We had spent all of our savings. I had no money to send him there. So he had to walk back here,” she said in Spanish.

Hurtado told ABC News that the journey up north and then back to Bogota, which included trekking through the hot Darien Gap, was difficult both mentally and physically.

“I slept in the street. The last thing I remember is that I spent three days without eating. I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to come back to my kids,” he said in Spanish.

Despite the struggle, the family has been saving their money to try to head to the United States again.

Navarro and Hurtado said they know that if they get to America, they are likely to face even more challenges as cities struggle to find housing, jobs and a fast path to asylum status for the migrants. Still, they said their situation has left them with no choice.

“I don’t think I’ll become a millionaire there, but I could put a roof over my kids’ heads, [and] give them a better quality of life,” Hurtado said in Spanish.
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Credit: ABC News

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