Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US

Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US
© Stefani Reynolds

The Trump administration denied this week a request by a group of 24 senators to provide Venezuelans in the United States temporary immigrant benefits in light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the South American country.

In a letter dated July 11, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said the administration "continues to monitor the situation in Venezuela" but declined to explicitly answer a request by the senators to grant temporary protected status (TPS) for Venezuelans.

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Cuccinelli wrote in response to a March 9 letter to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Trump confirms 2018 US cyberattack on Russian troll farm Trump tweets his support for Goya Foods amid boycott MORE led by Sens. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinGOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle Finger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Hillicon Valley: Facebook takes down 'boogaloo' network after pressure | Election security measure pulled from Senate bill | FCC officially designating Huawei, ZTE as threats MORE (D-Ill.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP chairman vows to protect whistleblowers following Vindman retirement over 'bullying' Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE (R-Fla.), Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO MORE (D-N.J.), and Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' A renewed emphasis on research and development funding is needed from the government Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (D-N.Y.) that explicitly asked for a TPS designation for Venezuela.

Under TPS, citizens of a country that's undergone man-made or natural disasters are allowed to live and work in the United States until the designation is revoked.

"There may be other immigration relief measures available to Venezuelan nationals affected by the current conditions in Venezuela," wrote Cuccinelli.

TPS designations are made at the discretion of the secretary of Homeland Security, with input from the State Department on country conditions.

A senior State Department official Tuesday declined to tell reporters on a call whether State agrees with the decision not to include Venezuela in TPS but said Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoHillicon Valley: Facebook considers political ad ban | Senators raise concerns over civil rights audit | Amazon reverses on telling workers to delete TikTok Amazon backtracks, says email asking employees to delete TikTok was sent in error Amazon asks employees to delete TikTok from mobile devices: report MORE will likely discuss the issue on his upcoming trip to Ecuador, a country that's received more than 260,000 Venezuelan refugees, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Cuccinelli's letter was released Tuesday by Menendez and Durbin, who along with Rubio and Sens. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyFinger-pointing, gridlock spark frustration in Senate Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse MORE (D-Vt.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocrats blast Trump for commuting Roger Stone: 'The most corrupt president in history' Koch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads Data shows seven Senate Democrats have majority non-white staffs MORE (D-N.J.) introduced in February a bill to legislate TPS for Venezuelans rather than wait for an executive designation.

"President Trump cannot have it both ways," wrote Menendez and Durbin in a statement.

"He cannot warn Americans that Venezuela is so dangerous they should avoid traveling there and then turn around and tell Venezuelans in the U.S. they are forced to return. It’s time for Congress to be consistent and humane and overrule this outrageous Trump policy," they added.

 
USCIS did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Trump administration has taken the lead in imposing sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and in January was the first country to recognize National Assembly head Juan Guaidó's claim to the country's presidency.

Rubio, the lone Republican signatory of the March 7 letter, downplayed the significance of USCIS's missive, as it didn't explicitly deny the request.

He also noted that it's nearly impossible for the United States to deport a Venezuelan national, saying, "We don’t even have direct flights, and certainly our relations — to deport someone you have to have some agreement with the government, and the acknowledged government of Venezuela is the Guaidó government, not the Maduro one."

"So my bigger concern is that if someone who is Venezuelan is taken in, they spend two or three weeks in detention, for example, and then they’re let go, but they were held for two or three terrible weeks," said Rubio in a hallway interview, according to his office. 

"And you know, they lose their job, they spend money on lawyers and the like. I’d like to see — obviously I support TPS, but I’d like to see some other administrative remedy because frankly we’re wasting money going after people we shouldn’t be deporting and couldn’t even if we wanted to," he added. 

Venezuelan TPS has become a sticking point for the administration, as rebuttal of Maduro's regime is a primary hemispheric foreign policy priority for Trump, but the administration has fought domestically to drastically reduce the size of TPS.

Since taking office, Trump has ordered termination of TPS for an array of countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Honduras and Nepal.

The rescision orders for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan were blocked by the courts in October, and the Trump administration put on hold its termination orders for Honduras and Nepal pending results of the initial TPS litigation.

In all, more than 300,000 people currently live in the United States under TPS, and some have held the status for more than two decades.

Previous administrations more or less summarily renewed TPS designations every 18 months; the Trump administration has said that's a violation of the program's temporary nature.

In his letter, Cuccinelli noted a "separation of powers concern" regarding TPS.

"As long as courts continue to displace executive branch authority to terminate TPS status, it makes a decision to exercise the discretion in the first place considerably more complicated and more akin to permanent status, rather than temporary," wrote Cuccinelli.