MEXICO CITY -- Just days before Mexico began requiring visas for Venezuelan visitors in an attempt to slow their migration to the U.S. border, Mayerlin Mayor left her native Maracaibo with her 7-year-old daughter Victoria.
The 36-year-old school teacher living with her parents could no longer make ends meet in the face of triple-digit inflation. They traveled by bus from the western Venezuela oilfields to Medellin in the mountains of Colombia, where they boarded a flight to Mexico.
On Tuesday, mother and daughter attempted to ford the Rio Grande to Del Rio, Texas, with other migrants and smugglers. Victoria Lugo Mayor was swept away by the current, her body recovered later by Mexican authorities. Her mother made it across and was detained by U.S. Border Patrol.
“It’s very painful.... It’s a powerful blow to the family,” Guillermo Castillo, Victoria’s uncle, said by phone from Venezuela.
Mexico announced this month it would impose the visa requirement on Venezuela beginning Friday, based on a tenfold increase in the number of Venezuelan citizens arriving in Mexico in recent years seeking to travel “in an irregular manner to a third country,” a clear reference to the United States.
Last year, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration offered temporary legal residency to several hundred thousand Venezuelans who have fled their country’s economic and political crisis, but has leaned on Mexico to help slow the flow of migrants to the shared border.
On Dec. 11, Mexico suspended a 17-year-old program that had allowed Brazilian citizens to enter without a visa. The move came after Mexico detected an uptick in Brazilian migrants traveling to Mexico with the intention of reaching the United States.
“This case of the girl lays bare the drama that Venezuelans who are forced to leave our country are living through,” said Carlos Vecchio, diplomatic representative of Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaidó in Washington. “The painful thing is that the tragedy would be so great that they are capable of risking their lives.” He noted that some 80,000 Venezuelans entered the U.S. illegally last year, more than six times as many as the previous year.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 6 million Venezuelans have left the country in recent years, more than 10% of the population. The Venezuelan economy has cratered under the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.
But Vecchio doubted Mexico’s visa requirement would stop Venezuelans from using Mexico as a bridge to the United States. Until the root of the problem — the country’s economic, political and social crises — is dealt with “there will not be a way to stop the exodus.”
Mayor was released by Border Patrol with a notice to appear in court. She was assisted by a local humanitarian group in Del Rio. Vecchio’s office was working with U.S. and Mexican authorities to bring Victoria’s body to the United States.
Castillo, Victoria’s uncle, said that Mayor could no longer raise her daughter in Maracaibo, where the collapse of the oil industry has led to chronic shortages of gasoline and failures of the water system.
“You have to try to leave and give an opportunity to the children because here sadly, here there is no future,” said Castillo, who works as kitchen help on an oil barge.
Mayor’s sister, Mayibeth Mayor, told local news site El Pitazo, that her sister and niece left Jan. 13, a week after Mexico announced that the visa requirement would begin Jan. 21.
Castillo said he did not know how much Mayor spent for the trip, but knew it was so much that no one else from the family could accompany her. “There isn’t the money right now because what you can get is to somewhat eat,” he said.
In the Mexican border city of Ciudad Acuña this week, before crossing the Rio Grande, Mayor sent a photograph of herself and Victoria, dressed in a red jacket and jeans, to her family.
“She was the joy of the house,” Castillo said.
Torrens reported from New York City.