Venezuelans in the U.S Hold Up Hope for a Return Home

Three years ago, Venezuelan Paola Granadillo decided that she couldn’t continue living in the country she was born in.

“I had to leave because of the political and economic situation. I simply couldn´t stay there anymore. We had to do lines for everything: for the food, or even for the toilet paper. Everything was regulated. If we wanted to buy four rolls of toilet paper, for example, I had to wait in huge lines outside the supermarket with my mom and my grandmother,” said Granadillo, who now works as a cashier at a restaurant in New York City, in Spanish. She came to the United States on a tourist visa, overstayed, and now lives undocumented.

But ever since January 23rd, Paola Granadillo sees hope of return. On that day, almost two weeks after Nicolás Maduro was sworn in as Venezuela´s president for a second term, the opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president of the country. Latin American nations, the United States and the European Parliament have recognized the National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the acting president of Venezuela. European leaders also gave an ultimatum to Nicolás Maduro, urging new elections in the country.

“Now we are all waiting for the miracle to happen,” said Granadillo.

Paola Granadillo is one of the 2.3 million people that have fled Venezuela´s economic and political crisis since 2015. According to the United Nations, the number may reach 5.3 million by the end of 2019.

Last Saturday, a group of Venezuelan immigrants that live in New York City gathered in Fordham University to talk about the situation in their homeland—and about the possibility of their own return. That same day, thousands of people protested in Caracas and around the world urging Maduro to resign.

“You can see a lot of spirit and optimism. I haven´t had this sensation for a long time. I can feel the good energy and hope because maybe we are going to see freedom in our country during this life,” said Niurka Meléndez, leader of Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid, a non-profit organization seeking to support forced migration from Venezuela.

In 2017, 351,000 Venezuelan immigrants were living in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many of those have applied for asylum. During 2017, the U.S Citizen and Immigration Services reported that 27,634 Venezuelans applied for asylum: two times more than in 2016 and five times more than in 2015.  But an increasing number of those applications, the Associated Press reported in August 2018,  have been denied and many are deported. In fact, the number of deportations of Venezuelans grew from 182 in 2016 to 248 in 2017, according to figures published by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Meléndez, 46, is still waiting for her asylum approval—she arrived in March 2015 to protect her son from the shortages. “The school indoctrination was terrible and he was only six years old,” added Meléndez.

She is one of the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans that apply every year to this protection. But now with the developments in her homeland she admits she might have other options.

“Now, I am open to leave this country to help building again mine if necessary. Maybe I could leave in six months, or a year,” said Meléndez in Spanish.

But not every Venezuelan is as optimistic as Meléndez.

“I can´t leave yet because this is going to be a long process. My family tells me that I have to wait. I am hopeful because I believe that this time it will be possible, but maybe in a long term,” said Venezuelan Rafael Castillo, 24, a student.

Venezuelan Immigration attorney Guillermo Nolivos said that the unfolding conflict between Juan Guaidó and Nicolás Maduro has invariably impacted his clients.

“People are anxious.  Many Venezuelans are happy with the changes because they want to go back. Others have been living here for long time, they have asylum, and are afraid to return. A lot of them are willing to leave but only if the conditions are better in the country,” explained Nolivos. “I think Venezuela might be able to offer some economic stability in 10 more years.”

Samuel Merchant, a musician, has been living in the U.S for 30 years and dreams of returning back to Venezuela. “I know I can make a contribution, and this definitely gives me hope and energy. Let’s wait for that to be a reality,” said Merchant last Saturday at Fordham University wearing a knitted Venezuelan hat.

“I have always had the hope of going back. Now is something that we might achieve, that we can touch. Before I thought we could not,” said Venezuelan Wanda Uzcátegui, 33, holding a banner that read: “With you today and forever Venezuela.”

Last Saturday, the supporters of Nicolás Maduro also rallied in Caracas, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Bolivarian revolution.

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence met with the Venezuelan diaspora in Miami.

“Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power- and Nicolás Maduro must go,” Pence said.