Biden Extends Temporary Status for Some Venezuelan Refugees, Offers No Protections for Recent Arrivals
While Temporary Protected Status will last through 2024, only Venezuelans who arrived before March 2021 will be eligible.
The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that the U.S. government will extend its Temporary Protected Status designation for Venezuelan migrants, providing legal protections through March 2024 for over 343,000 Venezuelans who have come to the United States amid a major economic downturn and political turmoil in the oil-rich South American nation.
Lawmakers in both parties celebrated the extension. "The Biden Administration's decision to extend Temporary Protected Status for eligible Venezuelans in our nation is overdue," Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) said in a press release. "This renewal will grant necessary relief to many who cannot return to their beloved homeland right now because of the Maduro narco-regime's destruction of Venezuela."
"A candle of hope remains lit in the homes of Venezuelans across our nation that fled a nation that has been led down a path of decay," State Senator Annette Taddeo (D–Fla.), who is also running for Congress in South Florida, said in a press release.
However, many lawmakers voiced their disappointment that only migrants who arrived before March 8, 2021, the day the designation was first granted, would be eligible for those benefits. Since March 2021, 500,000 Venezuelans have left the country, raising the total number of Venezuelan refugees to six million. Over 150,000 of these refugees have arrived in the U.S. in the last 15 months alone.
Some prominent Democrats worry that the decision to exclude these most recent arrivals from TPS will leave many Venezuelan refugees in legal limbo. "Today's decision relegates hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans into a life of vulnerability and marginalization in the United States." Sen. Robert Menendez (D–N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "We can and must do better."
Florida Democrats especially raised their concerns with the Biden administration's decision, in part given the state's large Venezuelan population. Over 50% of Venezuelans in the United States live in Florida, many living in the Miami metropolitan area.
"While I'm pleased about this essential extension, I strongly urge the President to offer that same refuge to Venezuelans who arrived after that same date, because nothing has changed in Venezuela, and in fact, has only gotten worse," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D–Fla.), whose South Florida district contains cities like Weston with large Venezuelan diaspora populations, said in a press release. "They too live with the same fear of being forced to return to Maduro's brutal and repressive state, and their safety is just as vital as we all work to restore democracy and peace to Venezuela."
Conditions in Venezuela have continued to deteriorate since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite some relief from high oil prices, Venezuela's economy continues to struggle as it digs itself out of a seven-year recession that saw unprecedented inflation and massive growth in economic inequality and poverty. Over 76 percent of Venezuelans now live in extreme poverty, according to a study conducted by Venezuela's Andres Bello Catholic University. This has led many Venezuelans to continue risking the dangerous journey to the United States via Central America. In December 2021 alone, 25,000 Venezuelans were apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border by Customs and Border Protection.
Immigration experts question why the Biden administration refused to extend eligibility. "Creating a separate population of people that will have to live in the shadows, won't be able to work to help support themselves and their families, legally quite frankly, doesn't make a lot of sense," Jorge Loweree, Managing Director of the American Immigration Council, tells Reason. He points to both the explicit authority the Biden administration had under existing immigration laws to expand eligibility up until the day of the announcement and the sheer volume of new arrivals that would now be excluded.
Democrats want to see more action. In a letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Taddeo, joined by 44 members of the Florida legislature, called on the administration to extend eligibility to Venezuelans who arrived before December 31st, 2021. Twenty-one Senate Democrats also joined Menendez in a letter calling for a similar eligibility expansion. They also call for greater efforts to clear the massive backlog U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) is currently experiencing in processing applications and paperwork.
Loweree sees inaction on expanding eligibility as a bad move by the Biden administration, in light of the wide bipartisan support for expanding TPS protections for Venezuelan refugees. "The fact that the administration chose to avoid extending TPS to those who arrived in the last 17 months is a real missed opportunity to lean in and truly lead on this important issue."