US Sanctions Nicaraguan Government in Bid to Stem Migrant Flow

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s administration is placing visa restrictions on hundreds of members of Nicaragua’s government and sanctioning three entities based in the country, part of an effort to tamp down on a historic surge of illegal immigration that has become a political flashpoint.

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The moves are intended to punish Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s government, which the US accuses of trying to exploit vulnerable migrants transiting through the country, according to senior US officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity Wednesday.

Officials said Ortega’s government is profiting off migrants by selling them visas that require them to leave the country in 96 hours after arriving at local airports.

A policy alert will also encourage airlines to take steps to identify routes that can be used for smuggling and to report concerning activity to US Customs and Border Protection, among other suggestions.

The US visa restrictions will hit more than 250 members of the government, including judges and others, according to one of the officials. Two of the entities being sanctioned by the US Treasury Department are gold companies and the third is a training center for the Russian ministry of internal affairs in Managua, the official added. US agencies will also issue travel alerts and warn transportation providers of the ways in which smugglers are trying to facilitate illegal migration.

Nicaragua has become an important transit country for migrants seeking to enter the US by land. The nation does not require visas from many other nations that are sources of illegal migration, exacerbating the US southern border crisis that has become a major liability for Biden ahead of his rematch with Donald Trump in November’s election.

Relations between the US and Nicaragua have worsened since Ortega’s landslide election victory in 2021, after he jailed his most popular opponents. The administration in 2022 targeted sectors of Nicaragua’s economy and restricted US investment in the country.

Officials said the US will continue to pressure Ortega to stop cracking down on the opposition to his regime, restore democratic norms and stop facilitating illegal migration.

Biden has taken steps to address the historic number of migrants at the US-Mexico border, including proposing a new rule earlier this month that would allow the US to more quickly expel some asylum-seekers. The move, though, only addresses a small percentage of those caught at the border, as Biden weighs more sweeping unilateral actions.

The White House has been considering an executive order on immigration policy since Republicans killed a bipartisan Senate deal, under pressure from Trump. Administration officials have said Biden wants to ensure his actions can withstand legal scrutiny before moving.

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