February 3, 2023
Colombia is seeking Deferred Enforced Departure for Colombian nationals living in the U.S., a move that would protect eligible nationals from deportation.

Colombia is requesting the Biden administration grant a form of protection from deportation to its citizens living illegally in the U.S., citing principles of ‘shared responsibility” and its generosity in accepting Venezuelan migrants.

In a letter to the Departments of State and Homeland Security, Colombia’s U.S. ambassador Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia says that Colombia “has been incredibly generous” in receiving over 2 million Venezuelan asylum seekers but says it faces its own challenges as a transit country for migrants moving through.

The letter, reported by The Associated Press, says that migration “is a regional issue that should be addressed under the principles of shared responsibility, strengthening regional cooperation to ensure migratory regularization.”

Therefore, the government is formally requesting the use of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program to protect Colombian nationals from potential deportation.

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DED allows a president to defer deportation for certain nationalities, although it is not itself a specific immigration status — and it can be accompanied by work authorization.

Previous examples of DED use include President Biden’s deferral of removal for citizens of Hong Kong last year, former President Donald Trump deferring removal for Venezuelans in January 2021 and then-President George W. Bush’s deferring the removal of Liberians in 2007, which is still in effect.

The letter touches on language used at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, where the Biden administration and leaders of other Western Hemisphere countries committed to a regional approach to migration.

Supporters of Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate of the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after he won a runoff presidential election in Cali, Colombia, on June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Quintero)

Supporters of Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate of the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after he won a runoff presidential election in Cali, Colombia, on June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Andres Quintero)

“With this declaration, we’re transforming our approach to managing migration in the Americas,” Biden said.

“Each of us is signing up to commitments that recognize the challenges we all share and the responsibility that impacts on all of our nations, and that will take all of our nations,” he said.

It is unclear how many Colombians are living in the U.S. illegally, but according to Customs and Border Protection data, there has been a significant increase in Colombia migrant encounters at the southern border. In October, there were more than 17,000 encounters, up from 3,000 in October last year and just 26 in October 2020.

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Murillo Urrutia says his government’s aim 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.”

Colombia has recently restarted peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army — a left-wing guerilla group — after talks had broken down in 2019.

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The U.S. has been facing a massive border crisis since early 2021 and faces a potential increase in migrants with the ending of the ability to return migrants under the Title 42 public health order later this month.

The Biden administration had recently expanded Title 42 to include Venezuelan nationals, while simultaneously opening a parole program for nationals who apply and meet certain conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.