The Volokh Conspiracy

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Congress Should Improve and then Pass the Venezuelan Adjustment Act

The bipartisan legislation would grant permanent residency and work rights to some 400,000 refugees from Venezuela's brutal socialist dictatorship.


Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Florida), co-sponsor of the Venezuelan Adjustment Act (office of Rep. Salazar).


Yesterday, a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives introduced the Venezuelan Adjustment Act, which would grant permanent residency rights to some 400,000 Venezuelans currently in the United States, who have fled their home country's brutal socialist dictatorship:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced the Venezuelan Adjustment Act to adjust the legal status for Venezuelan nationals. Florida Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R), who's promoted the Dignity Act, joins Democrats in looking to address pressing concerns regarding Venezuelan nationals. With Florida Reps. Darren Soto (D), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), and Frederica Wilson (D), Salazar has introduced H.R. 4048.

According to a press release from Salazar's office, the bill "would adjust the legal status for certain Venezuelan nationals to that of lawfully admitted permanent residence if they meet certain criteria, including entering the United States before or on December 31, 2021."

Moreover, it "would provide a path to lawful permanent residency status to many Venezuelan nationals who have been living in the United States for years and allow them to continue making significant contributions to their communities, the state of Florida, and the country…."

Mildred Rodriguez, the CEO of My Voice Counts, praised the effort, commenting that the bill "will allow more than 400,000 Venezuelans who are fleeing an oppressive regime where totalitarianism prevails to obtain Permanent Residence…."

As Rep. Salazar (herself the daughter of Cuban refugees from communism), put it in her statement introducing the act, "The oppression of the Maduro regime and the failure of socialism of the 21st century has led to the world's worst refugee crisis. As a result, thousands of Venezuelans…. face an uncertain immigration situation and cannot return to Venezuela. I am proud to co-lead the Venezuelan Adjustment Act to provide refuge for those who have endured incredible suffering, so they do not have to return home to face the wrath of the dictatorship."

The poverty and oppression created by Venezuela's socialist government has caused over 7 million refugees to flee. It isn't entirely clear whether this really is the world's biggest current refugee crisis. Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to  the flight of a similar number of people. But the Venezuelan situation is certainly the biggest refugee crisis in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Rep. Salazar and the other sponsors deserve credit for introducing this bill, and Congress should pass it. If enacted, it will help Venezuelan migrants in the US continue to escape deportation back to oppression, as opposed to being subject to the whims of the White House, where current and future presidents may or may not continue to extend the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) most of them currently enjoy. Granting permanent residency will also benefit American society as a whole, by enabling migrants to integrate into society more fully, and increase their contributions to the economy. I covered these and other advantages of passing adjustment acts in greater detail in an April article in the Boston Globe (non-paywall version here).

Rep. Salazar stands out relative to some other GOP politicians who simultaneously condemn socialism and try to keep Venezuelans and others fleeing it from entering the US. The rest of the party would do well to follow her example, though I fear many won't.

There is, however, one obvious flaw in the current version of the Venezuelan Adjustment Act. With a few exceptions, it only applies to Venezuelans who entered the United States on or before Dec. 31, 2021. That leaves out many thousands who have arrived since then, including a large number admitted under the Biden Administration's expansion of the Uniting for Ukraine private sponsorship model to cover migrants from four Latin American nations, including Venezuela. It is obvious that Venezuelans who arrived after Dec. 31, 2021 are no less worthy of refuge than those who came before that date. I hope the sponsors will drop this arbitrary date limitation.

Some might wonder whether it is unfair to grant permanent residency to Venezuelans, but not migrants fleeing comparable violence and oppression elsewhere. Why Venezuelans, but not Cubans, Ukrainians, and others? It's a reasonable question. The answer is the same one I have given on several previous occasions (e.g. here and here).

Ideally, we should indeed extend residency rights to all similarly situated migrants fleeing poverty, war, and oppression. I have long advocated adjustment acts for Afghans, Cubans, Ukrainians, Russians fleeing Putin's regime, and other similarly situated migrants fleeing oppression.  But the best should not be the enemy of the good. We should not forego an opportunity to help some refugees from oppression unless and until we can simultaneously help all.

To the extent there is inconsistency and unfairness, the right way to address it is "leveling up," not leveling down. Moreover, a successful Venezuelan Adjustment Act can potentially serve as a model for similar legislation applying to other groups. The US actually has a long history of passing adjustment acts granting permanent residency to other refugees from socialism. This legislation can help reinvigorate that tradition, after an unfortunate hiatus in recent years.

UPDATE: It's worth noting that there is already an Afghan Adjustment Act before Congress, albeit it hasn't passed, despite significant bipartisan support (including from Rep. Salazar, who is one of its sponsors). On June 8, a different bipartisan group of representatives introduced a Ukrainian Adjustment Act, which I will say more about in a future post.