Bipartisan group in Congress wants to extend temporary protected status to Venezuelans fleeing unrest

venezuelaCarlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

  • A bipartisan group of congress members want to extend Temporary protected status to include Venezuelan migrants fleeing violence and poverty in the South American country.
  • Temporary protected status applies to nationals of certain countries deemed unsafe to return to, or where the country's government is unable to adequately handle the return of its own nationals.
  • Currently, TPS is available for some migrants who arrived to the US from 10 countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
  • The Trump administration has sought to crack down on TPS, moving to shut down the program for refugees from Honduras, Sudan, El Salvador, and several other countries during President Donald Trump's first two years in office.
  • A judge blocked the attempt in late 2018.

The Trump administration has sought to limit the use of temporary protected status for certain groups as part of its broader effort to reform the immigration system in the US.

Temporary protected 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 own nationals, according to guidance from the US Department of Homeland Security.

There are 10 countries from which nationals are eligible for temporary protected status: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Yemen, Haiti, Nepal, Syria, Sudan, and South Sudan.

Now a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers wants to extend those protections to people from Venezuela.

Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, introduced a bill to the House that would extend TPS to Venezuelans due to unrest and oppression under the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.

Diaz-Balart said hyperinflation, supply shortages, and egregious human-rights abuses have "forced many Venezuelans into exile, and the conditions in Venezuela remain too perilous for them to return."

"Political opposition leaders are imprisoned, and some have died under mysterious circumstances," he said.

He added: "Meanwhile, Maduro's thugs abduct, detain, and imprison protesters, while his state police and intelligence services use violence, intimidation, and arbitrary arrests to silence them."

By extending TPS to Venezuelans, Diaz-Balart said he hopes to provide a solution to many who are escaping Maduro's regime, but the Florida Republican is not acting alone. Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, a fellow Floridian who represents the 9th District, called Maduro's presidency illegitimate, saying it "has only brought suffering and despair to the people of Venezuela."

"During Maduro's tyrannical rule, Venezuela's economy has deteriorated at alarming rates, causing a scarcity of basic foods and medicine in the country," Soto said. "Venezuela should be added as a country designated for TPS as a way to help protect our brothers and sisters escaping Maduro's terror."

Read more: Trump leaves 'military option' on the table for Venezuela, which he calls as threatening as North Korea

TPS is often given to those fleeing countries afflicted by armed conflicts or natural disasters. At present, about 436,900 people covered under TPS, according to an ABC News report published on January 9.

The Trump administration has sought to crack down on TPS, moving to shut down the program for refugees from several countries one year ago.

Florida Rep. Donna Shalala said she is optimistic Congress and the White House will extend TPS to Venezuelans and said she and her colleagues are also fighting to keep the protections in place for nationals who come from countries targeted by the Trump administration.

"We are strong supporters of extending TPS for everybody else," she said.

It is unclear how many Venezuelans would benefit from TPS, but according to census figures cited by the Pew Charitable Trusts show the Venezuelan immigrant population living in the US has doubled in the past decade to more than 350,000 people. The largest concentration of them live in Florida.

Shalala told INSIDER her constituents in Florida have called her crying, thanking her and her colleagues for their efforts to enact this extension. The entire South Florida delegation in Congress, she said, is committed to this and other bills that she said will hold the Venezuela regime's "feet to the fire."

She said of Venezuela: "The government is terrorizing people and killing people and so this is the first step in a number of bills we're going to introduce."

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