- The Washington Times - Monday, March 8, 2021

The Biden administration said Monday that hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who have fled the economic and humanitarian crisis in their homeland can stay in the U.S. for now, moving to cement a policy President Trump had put in place in his last days in office.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he is extending Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans already in the U.S. but with less than permanent status — including immigrants without documentation. TPS gives them permission to live and work here without fear of being ousted.

The move has both immigration and foreign policy implications, serving as a jab at socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as well as a grant of protection for ordinary Venezuelans who have managed to make it out of the country and reach the U.S.

“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Mr. Mayorkas said. “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.”

A 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office said there were about 300,000 Venezuelans who lacked permanent legal status. Of those, about 200,000 were expected to apply for and be granted TPS, CBO said.

The increasingly authoritarian Mr. Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist President Hugo Chavez, has overseen a steep descent in living standards and a stunning rise in poverty since assuming office in 2013. The U.S. and many of Venezuela’s neighbors do not recognize him as president, and instead consider opposition leader Juan Guaido the interim president.

Administration officials have said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via telephone on March 2 with Mr. Guaido.

State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday wouldn’t say whether the President Biden’s team wants regime change in Venezuela, but said Washington “supports the democratic aspirations of the people of Venezuela.”

“We know at the root of much of the misery and the suffering of the people of Venezuela stands one individual, and we’ve been very clear that Nicholas Maduro is a dictator,” Mr. Price said.

Mr. Trump, the day before he left office, had extended a different protection known as Deferred Enforced Departure. It is effectively the same as TPS, protecting migrants from deportation and allowing them to get work permits.

But Democrats still praised Mr. Biden for his decision, saying TPS offers a more firm footing in law.

“In standing with the Venezuelan people, we are striking a blow to the Maduro regime,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat.

Venezuela becomes the first new country granted TPS in years.

The Trump administration had tried to reel in the program for migrants from other countries, declining to issue new grants and trying to cancel some previous TPS designations dating back decades. The cancellations were blocked by courts, who said the Trump team cut too many corners.

While the program is supposed to be temporary, only lasting as long as poor conditions persist, in practice it often becomes a perpetual status.

El Salvador was granted TPS on March 9, 2001, after an earthquake ravaged the country.

Two decades later, though, nearly 250,000 people are living in the U.S. under those 2001 protections, according to the Congressional Research Service.

For Honduras, the designation dates back to the last century, after a 1998 hurricane. Nearly 80,000 people are still in the U.S. under those protections.

All told, more than 400,000 people have TPS. The Venezuelan designation could boost those numbers by 50%.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are also pushing to grant TPS holders full citizenship rights, arguing they’ve been in the country so long it makes no sense to ask them to leave.

CASA, a Maryland-based advocacy group working with migrants in the mid-Atlantic region, praised the administration and pressed Mr. Biden to do more.

“We hope this opens the door for more comprehensive immigration reforms, and we continue to wait for other critical announcements of TPS for Cameroon, Guatemala, Haiti and more countries,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA executive director, in a statement.

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