Biden grants temporary legal status to thousands of Venezuelans in US

The Biden administration announced Monday it would allow Venezuelans to apply for temporary legal status in the United States, a move designed to increase pressure on the Maduro government by providing protection to those that have fled the regime.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notice allows some 300,000 Venezuelans currently living in the U.S. to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), letting them stay in the U.S. for 18 months due to what a senior administration official called turmoil in Venezuela.

“The suffering and the ongoing turmoil the Venezuelan people have endured is well documented,” a senior official said on a call with reporters.

“This designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent the nationals there, if you are here, from returning safely,” the official added. 

The announcement was coupled with a pledge to provide “robust humanitarian assistance,” particularly to neighboring nations that have taken in some 5 million Venezuelans who have left the country. 

In the early days after taking office, the Biden administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the rightful president of Venezuela following what it deemed an illegitimate 2018 election process that left Nicolás Maduro in power. 

“To keep deporting Venezuelans back to Maduro’s tragedy would be to tell them they are a burden on our communities, a menace to our national security, and an unwelcome guest in our country. Reality and our national interest are precisely the opposite,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) who led previous legislative efforts to secure TPS for Venezuelans.

“In standing with the Venezuelan people, we are striking a blow to the Maduro regime, which has for years deprived its own citizens of education, healthcare, basic freedoms, and even food,” he added. “And we are sending a powerful signal to allies and competitors that the United States is once again committed to the cause of democracy.”

Many Republicans similarly praised Biden’s decision.

“Nicolás Maduro and his criminal communist regime have stolen the wealth, obliterated the civil rights, persecuted, and tortured the people of Venezuela, forcing millions to leave their homeland seeking the freedom and security that they cannot find in his own nation,” said Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.).

But some also warned against allowing the status to lead to more permanent residency. Though temporary, TPS designations can be extended by the administration, as the Biden team has already done with Syrians living in the U.S. 

Biden’s immigration plan would also allow some with TPS, including those who came from Central America as early as the 1990s, to gain citizenship.

“It is critical that we continue working with our democratic allies to secure a Venezuela free from tyranny and ensure this temporary status in the U.S. does not become a permanent one,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a statement otherwise applauding the TPS designation.

Monday’s decision follows a last-minute effort by the Trump administration to allow Venezuelans to remain in the U.S. under a different mechanism, Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). 

The order, signed by Trump on his last full day in office, barred deportation of Venezuelans, but it left many Venezuelans in limbo, relying on the Biden administration to allow those with DED status to obtain work authorization.

“Many of our constituents are now awaiting guidance on the important particulars of their new … status, such as the documentation required, procedures that must be followed, and how to obtain work authorization,” lawmakers wrote in a letter to DHS spearheaded by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) in February.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration seeks to double down on international efforts to push democracy in Venezuela. 

“We’re going to, as an administration, be working to increase the international consensus in favor of free and fair elections in Venezuela and, as we’re working with the international community, to increase pressure in a coordinated fashion, and making clear that the only outcome of this crash crisis is a negotiation that leads to a democratic solution,” another senior official said.

The senior official also said that the Biden administration is in “no rush” to lift sanctions on Venezuela, which were widely expanded under the Trump administration, in particular on hundreds of individuals and dozens of entities. These were on top of sanctions that were already in place by the former Obama administration. 

Yet the official spoke out against the Trump administration’s strategy of “unilateral sanctions,” saying efforts by the U.S. would likely be coordinated with the international community. 

“We have to recognize here that unilateral sanctions over the last four years have not  succeeded in achieving an electoral outcome in the country,” the official said. “What we’re focused on is making sure that we’re working very closely, and coordinating very closely with the European Union, with our friends and allies in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Updated at 6:47 p.m.

Tags Bob Menendez Marco Rubio Mario Diaz-Balart Venezuela

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