Should Congress Give Venezuelans Protected Status?

˙ Latin America Advisor

Bipartisan bills introduced recently in both chambers of the U.S. Congress seek to grant temporary protected status, or TPS, to Venezuelan migrants, a move that would allow Venezuelans to legally remain and work in United States for 18 months. TPS is granted by the Department of Homeland Security to citizens of countries that are experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. How big of a priority is this bill for lawmakers? How likely is it that Venezuelans will be granted TPS in the near future, and which factors could influence that decision? How, if at all, could the measure affect Venezuelan migration trends?


Donna Shalala, U.S. representative for Florida’s 27th congressional district: “Nicolás Maduro has undermined Venezuela’s democratic institutions and, in the process, created a political, economic and humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions. Our bipartisan TPS legislation shields from deportation those Venezuelans who have escaped this human-made disaster, thousands of whom have settled in South Florida. Granting TPS status to Venezuelan migrants is among the top priorities for us South Floridians. For so many Venezuelans in our community—our neighbors, friends, students and teachers—there is no country to go back to, as long as children are dying from malnutrition, HIV and cancer patients are forced to forgo treatment, and peaceful protesters are killed in the streets at the hands of government forces. As we fight to grant TPS for Venezuelans, we’ve also introduced bills that will provide humanitarian aid to the Venezuelan people and restrict the export of arms from the United States to the Maduro regime. Moreover, we are concurrently fighting to protect or extend TPS designation for other groups. Like Venezuelans in our community, these Floridians have escaped catastrophe, often put down roots and now are facing the cruel uncertainty of being deported to countries where violence and extreme poverty are rampant. We recognize that this is an uphill battle, as this administration continues to wage a war on immigrants, but we will continue to fight for the millions who now call Florida home.”

Geoff Ramsey, assistant director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America: “The response to Venezuelan refugees and migrants has been overshadowed by this administration’s deep xenophobia. It’s true that the United States has played an important funding role in the regional response, earmarking $93 million in funds in the 2018 fiscal year for the response to fleeing Venezuelans. But it has been woefully silent on Venezuelans’ need for access to legal status in the countries they are fleeing to, let alone in the United States. So far Venezuelans have been no exception to the White House’s backward migration and refugee policies. Instead, the administration has placed the lowest ceiling on refugee admissions since 1980 and denied formal status to migrants. In response to an increase in asylum claims by Venezuelans who entered the country legally in recent years, the U.S. government has responded harshly. The United States has slashed the number of tourist B-visas issued to Venezuelans from 240,000 in 2015 to less than 57,000 in 2017. It’s also clear that any discussion of TPS for Venezuelans who are fleeing an economic collapse and political crisis cannot be held in isolation. When pressed about the contradictions in this administration’s approach, Vice President Mike Pence argued there is ‘a clear distinction’ between Central Americans and Haitians and ‘the people who are literally fleeing from Venezuela to survive.’ Personally, I see more similarities than differences. Dysfunctional institutions, economic collapse and deep insecurity all cause people to flee and prevent them from returning, no matter where they flee from.”

Soeurette Michel, South Florida-based attorney and CEO of The Michel Law Firm: “This bill is of little priority for lawmakers because immigration reforms have been a long time coming. The Department of Homeland Security’s aggressive stance on immigration recently makes it harder to pass a bill to grant TPS to Venezuelans despite the challenges they have been facing. Under DHS guidelines, TPS status applies to nationals of certain countries where it is deemed unsafe to return, or where the country’s government is unable to adequately handle the return of its nationals. Here it’s problematic, because there is one ‘elected president’–Nicolás Maduro—and one ‘auto-proclaimed president’—Juan Guaidó. Whose government would lawmakers consider? This bill is of little priority for lawmakers also because there is no strong argument yet on the table to make the case that Venezuelans qualify for TPS, taking into consideration DHS guidelines. If the foreign politics and intrusions within Venezuela’s internal politics prevail, Venezuelans could be granted TPS, but there is no time table for that to happen. The factors that could influence that decision would be: Nicolás Maduro staying in power for the duration of his mandate; the economic crisis persisting; and Venezuelans continuing to migrate to the United States. If Venezuelans are granted TPS, there is a possibility that Venezuelans migration will increase, although lawmakers could put some restrictions on who qualifies to apply for TPS.”

Marc Becker, professor of Latin American history at Truman State University: “Venezuelans should be granted TPS status, although a certain amount of irony exists in calling on the United States government to extend that designation because U.S. policy, spanning several administrations, is largely to blame for Venezuela’s collapsing economy. Although rarely mentioned in media accounts, which are determined to create a narrative of the failure of socialism in Venezuela, draconian and ideologically motivated sanctions that the United States government has imposed on the country has led us to this situation. The sanctions began with Obama, who in 2015 declared a national emergency because of ‘the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States’ that Venezuela represented. As knowledgeable observers noted at the time, that statement was ludicrous to the point of laughable. Under the influence of Marco Rubio, Trump has only heightened both the rhetoric and the sanctions, most recently with the blockade of petroleum shipments. These steps do little to undermine Maduro’s position of power, because as long as he retains the backing of the military he will remain in office, and there is little indication of that support weakening. Rather, these sanctions are most damaging to the livelihoods of common civilians, which of course leads us back to the question of TPS status. Were it not for the sanctions, we would not be having this discussion. Obviously, the most direct and rational solution to this problem is to end the sanctions and recognize and respect Venezuela’s independence and sovereignty.”

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