Homeland Security announced a deportation amnesty Monday for hundreds of thousands of migrants from Venezuela because of ongoing political unrest in the South American country, moving to cement a policy President Trump had put in place in his last days in office.
Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said he is extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the U.S. but with less than permanent status — including illegal immigrants. 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 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.”
Homeland Security estimated 323,000 people are eligible to apply. Some of those are in the country under legal temporary visas, others arrived legally but overstayed visas, and still others jumped the border illegally. All are eligible to apply.
A 2019 report by the Congressional Budget Office said at that time there were about 300,000 Venezuelans who lacked permanent legal status, and of those, about 200,000 were expected win TPS.
Mr. Maduro has overseen a steep descent in living standards and a stunning rise in poverty since assuming office in 2013.
The U.S. does not recognize him as president, and instead considers 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 Biden team wants regime change in Venezuela, but said it “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 Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Venezuela becomes the first new country granted TPS in years.
The Trump administration had tried to reel in the program, declining to issue new grants and trying to cancel some previous TPS designations dating back decades.
The cancelations 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 add 50% to that.
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 go back home.