The Biden administration announced on Monday that it will be granting temporary humanitarian protections to hundreds of thousands of eligible Venezuelans currently living in the U.S. without legal status, fulfilling a key campaign promise made to families who fled President Nicolás Maduro’s brutal regime.
"The designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela, which is one of the statutory bases for it," a Biden administration official said Monday according to CBS News. "Because of conditions there, it is not safe for Venezuelans to return.”
Vox reports the Biden administration’s designation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela stands to protect as many as 320,000 people currently in the U.S., allowing them to apply to live and work here for a period of 18 months. The program, created by Congress under Republican President George H.W. Bush, is applied in circumstances when affected people are unable to return to their home countries due to natural disasters or civil unrest, as in Venezuela’s case.
“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas said according to NBC News. “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”
The previous administration had steadily refused to designate TPS for Venezuela, and had in fact “secretly deported” a number of Venezuelan immigrants back to danger, The Washington Post reports. On his last day in office, the previous occupant of the White House instead granted a different form of deportation deferral that protected fewer people. Orlando Sentinel reported at the time that the move was slammed by activists like Venezuelan Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient Juan Escalante as “a political act, not a humanitarian one.” He compared it to “a gift to Florida’s Republican Party in order to get votes.”
Orlando Sentinel reported this week that the Biden administration’s action “produced something extraordinary on Monday: bipartisan praise,” including from both of the state’s Republican U.S. senators. In response to the designation, Escalante wrote on Twitter that it would mean “that my parents will no longer live in fear of being arrested, detained, and deported back to the country they fled from.”
“When I received DACA in 2012, I had to tell both my parents that the program would not shield them from deportation, nor offer them the ability to work or drive legally in the United States,” he tweeted. “It was one of the most difficult things I've had to do in my life. All of that changes TODAY, thanks to Sec. Mayorkas’s designation of TPS for Venezuela. Thanks to TPS, my parents will be able to continue to drive to work, the beach, and the store without looking over their shoulders—worried that they might be pulled over and handed to ICE.”
“It’s not clear whether the Biden administration will evaluate whether to renew their TPS status after the 18-month period,” Vox continued. Senate Democrats last month reintroduced legislation that could stand to protect over 400,000 immigrants from nearly a dozen TPS designated nations, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Yemen (it’s unclear if Venezuelan designees would be eligible under this legislation).
In a statement received by Daily Kos, Escalante urged legislators to act on permanently protecting these immigrants. “We have a once in a generation opportunity to help our families, communities, and economy through legislation that is currently being considered in Congress. The American people are more than ready for decisive action to put undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. Lawmakers must get to work immediately to pass these bills—there’s no time to waste.”