Thousands of Venezuelans seek refuge in US amid turmoil
Posted August 4, 2017 5:42 p.m. EDT
Updated August 5, 2017 9:03 a.m. EDT
CARACAS, Venezuela — A South American country in political turmoil is sending thousands of people to seek asylum in the United States.
Venezuela's ruling party on Friday installed a new super assembly that supporters promise will pacify the country and critics fear will be a tool for imposing dictatorship.
The constitutional assembly's first order of business was selecting its head — former Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez, a loyal follower of President Nicolas Maduro.
The installation of the all-powerful constitutional assembly is virtually certain to intensify a political crisis that has brought four months of protests that left at least 120 people dead and hundreds jailed. Maduro vows the assembly will strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, while members of congress say they will only be removed by force.
That chaos saw more than 21,000 people apply for asylum in the U.S. in the most recent fiscal year, a 286 percent increase in two years.
Many of those people fleeing Venezuela come to North Carolina, including Ceci Bracho.
"The political situation is a nightmare, but the humanitarian situation is even worse," Bracho said.
Bracho, who is an American citizen, came to North Carolina 16 years ago. She was amazed by the recent Venezuelan protest in Cary. She said she witnessed a community that started as hundreds grow to thousands in the Triangle.
Kriss Gomez, who was also at the Cary protest, said the number of people who turned out was surprising.
"It has really opened my eyes on just how many people are here in North Carolina," Gomez said.
Gomez, a North Carolina State University graduate who works in politics, settled in Johnston County in 2003. He is now an American citizen.
He still has family in Venezuela who are dealing with the food and medicine shortages.
"There's no middle class. There is either a wealthy class or a very poor class, and that gap is widening," Gomez said.
"They don't see a future, they only see destruction," Bracho said.
Bracho built a future in the Triangle, and now she is committed to helping others escape the horrors back home.
"Sometimes we feel guilty. Sometimes we feel guilty because we have everything here," she said.
Many recent refugees say they are afraid to speak out publicly for a fear of repercussions for their family back home.
Anyone who wants to help can contact Ceci Bracho at SOSVenezuelaNC@gmail.com. Carlos Arevalo at email@example.com or Maria Helena Lopez Fracciolla at firstname.lastname@example.org.