President Joe Biden is allowing thousands of Venezuelans in the U.S. the chance to apply for temporary protection in the U.S., a strike at Venezuela’s government that could have political benefits for Democrats.
Biden’s order allows about 300,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. to apply for Temporary Protected Status. If it is granted, recipients can remain and work in the U.S. for 18 months.
The move is intended to tighten pressure on Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, under whom the country’s once prosperous economy has crumbled, while its residents have fled or the many who remain scrounge for food and other basics.
Biden had promised on the campaign trail that he would extend the protections for Venezuelans in the U.S., many of whom are in the critical swing state of Florida.
“The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro 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.”
Former President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Venezuela to try to force Maduro out. He also recognized opposition leader Juan Guaído as the legitimate president.
But while in office, Trump refused to support legislation in Congress to grant Venezuelans protected status, and congressional Republicans also blocked legislation to grant it. Many Venezuelans were deported during his term.
A senior Biden administration official portrayed Trump’s focus on sanctions as a failed strategy, The Associated Press reported.
“The United States is in no rush to lift sanctions,” the official told reporters in a phone call on condition of anonymity to discuss the policy. “But we need 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 the administration would review the sanctions.
Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is a temporary, renewable benefit that grants protection from deportation and permission to work to people who are unable to return to their countries because of natural disasters, armed conflicts and other conditions.
Trump found strong support among Venezuelans in the U.S. in November, helping him to win Florida in the election. On his departure, he signed an executive order that deferred for 18 months the removal of Venezuelans who were at risk of being deported.
‘A powerful signal’
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, said continuing to deport Venezuelans to the country, which he described as Maduro’s tragedy, “would be to tell them they are a burden to the community, a menace to our national security and an unwelcome guest in our country.”
Menendez and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., now the Senate’s majority whip, were lead sponsors of the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was a cosponsor.
“We are striking a blow to the Maduro regime … and we are sending a powerful signal to allies and competitors that the United States is once again committed to the cause of democracy,” Menendez said.
To be eligible for the protected status, applicants must show continuous residence in the U.S. as of Monday, March 8. The Homeland Security Department will announce a 180-day registration period when applications can be filed with Citizenship and Immigration Services.
All applicants will have to undergo security and background checks. More details will be published in a Federal Register notice.
The administration is encouraging people who received Deferred Enforced Departure during the Trump administration to apply for TPS, too.
Associated Press contributed.