Legislation that would grant some Venezuelan citizens living in the United States protection from deportation could reach the U.S. House of Representatives this week, with Congress returning Monday from its Memorial Day recess.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bipartisan bill 20-9 before the recess that was co-sponsored by Florida legislators Democrat Darren Soto and Republican Mario Díaz-Balart.
“The whole world continues to witness (Venezuelan leader Nicolás) Maduro’s blatant disregard for human rights, including arbitrary arrests, media censorship, imprisonment of the opposition, and the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters,” said Soto. “It is our moral duty to help those escaping this terror. With the historic passage of this bill out of committee, we are acknowledging the struggle of the Venezuelan people and working to lend a helping hand.”
“Due to the brutality, corruption, extreme shortages of food and medicine, crime, and near total collapse of Venezuela’s economy, it would be unconscionable to force those who fled the dictatorship to return now,” Díaz-Balart added.
Other Florida members weighed in.
“The House Judiciary Committee is doing the right thing by passing this bipartisan legislation granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing tyranny, oppression, and starvation,” said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) “It is imperative that the House and Senate pass this bill and offer a place of safety for the people of Venezuela while the country continues its fight for freedom and democracy,” Crist added.
“Thousands of Venezuelans are coming from a country that is experiencing an unprecedented economic and humanitarian crisis, and they cannot return safely. It’s time to act and pass TPS for Venezuelans!” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.)
Florida has the largest number of Venezuelans living in the 50 states – 200,000 — and a majority of those reside in South Florida. The Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019 would benefit approximately 72,000 Venezuelans. While TPS has been granted to other nationalities in the past, this would be the first time it is extended to Venezuelans if it passes and is signed into law. Both of Florida’s U.S. senators, Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, also support granting TPS to Venezuelans.
Temporary Protected Status was established in 1990 for immigrants in the United States who are “temporarily unable to safely return to their home country” due to several factors, including natural disasters or armed conflicts, and shields them from deportation. It is renewable every two years.
The Democrat-backed majority in the House is expected to pass the bill, but it is less certain in the U.S. Senate with Republicans who favor the administration’s hardline approach on immigration. Both senators Rubio and Scott have urged President Trump to extend TPS to Venezuelans, while President Trump has ended the program for other nationalities – a decision currently blocked from implementation by courts.
Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy on Venezuela, testified two months ago in Congress that the decision to grant TPS to Venezuelans is “under review.”
The White House has not commented on the House Judiciary Committee vote.
Daniel Lederman is a reporter in the South Florida Media Network’s Washington, D.C., Bureau.