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U.S. Extends Venezuelans’ Temporary Legal Protection

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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas | Image by Reuters

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The Biden administration announced on Monday that the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who escaped their country’s humanitarian catastrophe and are already living in the United States under temporary legal protection would be permitted to stay for an additional 18 months.

Temporary Protect Status (TPS) was granted to an estimated 343,000 Venezuelans already living in the United States in March 2021, allowing them to live and work lawfully for 18 months. The group will be the only ones who qualify for the extension, which will last until March 10, 2024.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas called it “one of many ways the Biden administration is providing humanitarian support to Venezuelans at home and abroad, together with our regional partners.”

“We will continue to work with our international partners to address the challenges of regional migration while ensuring our borders remain secure,” Mayorkas said.

Advocates praised the extension for those in the program; however, they expressed concern for those who arrived after the March 8, 2021 cutoff and were not given temporary protection, leaving 250,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. at risk of deportation.

The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.’s executive director, Anna Gallagher, referred to the choice as “misguided.” Her group and 200 other groups had petitioned the Biden administration to include those who arrived after the deadline.

She said inaction by the government “will put hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who fled seeking refuge at risk — in violation of humanitarian principles as well as what we, as Catholics, believe is our duty to shelter those in need.”

Venezuela is currently experiencing a severe political, social, and economic catastrophe due to the sharp decline in oil prices and 20 years of political discontent.

When Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1999, he was able to reduce some inequality. But some of the socialist policies he implemented had unintended consequences. The government put in price controls to lower the cost of essentials like bread, cooking oil, and toiletries for the poor. But due to the regulations, many Venezuelan companies stopped producing since they could no longer turn a profit, which eventually led to shortages.

Amid high food prices, a lack of medication, low wages, and four-digit inflation, over 5 million Venezuelans have fled in recent years, primarily to neighboring South American nations, though many have ended up in South Florida.

Human Rights Watch reported last week that the number of Venezuelans migrating northward through the Darién Gap, a dangerous and dense jungle between Colombia and Panama, has increased significantly over the past year as a result of countries imposing visa restrictions that make it more difficult for Venezuelans to fly to Mexico and Central America.

The most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show that since October, U.S. immigration agents have recorded nearly 100,000 encounters with unlawful Venezuelan migrants, roughly twice as many as the agency had registered the year before.

The TPS program, established in 1990 for citizens of countries affected by civil war or natural disasters, is now open to immigrants from more than a dozen nations.

Since the earthquake that struck El Salvador in 2001, 200,000 people have been living in the U.S. temporarily.

The Biden administration has also granted temporary status to citizens of Cameroon, Myanmar, Haiti, and Ukraine, in addition to Venezuela.

Democrats in Congress have been increasing pressure on President Joe Biden to extend protection to more immigrants fleeing violent conflict in their home countries. Sens. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Mark Kelly of Arizona, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada have all called for such changes to immigration policy.

Many individuals seeking entry to the United States have filed for asylum, and the courts are still hearing their cases.

However, because short-term reprieves are sometimes prolonged by up to 18 months, many people describe them as anything but temporary.

The former acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, Ken Cuccinelli, said, “I can’t guess about numbers, but this is a path to amnesty for hundreds of thousands of people who have entered the U.S. illegally.”

He said the policy was “another brutal stomping of the rule of law.”       

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