Washington, D.C.—April 15, 2020, marks one full year of inaction from the Trump administration after WOLA and over 200 other organizations publicly urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This humanitarian program would protect Venezuelans in the United States from deportation and would also grant them work authorizations. In April 2019, DHS stated that it was “monitoring conditions” in Venezuela and would act accordingly, amid lawsuits regarding the administration’s efforts to end TPS protections for some 450,000 people from six other countries including El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. Meanwhile, the situation in Venezuela has continued to deteriorate and seems likely to grow worse in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“These are people who are fleeing not just a political crisis, but a deep humanitarian emergency,” said Geoff Ramsey, Director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “We’ve heard a lot about solidarity with Venezuelans from this White House, but it seems this solidarity ends when Venezuelans leave their borders. In the United States and across the hemisphere, those fleeing violence and instability deserve a humane response that protects them from being deported back to a dangerous situation.”
Given the Department of Homeland Security’s failure to offer temporary protection to fleeing Venezuelans, bipartisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives in June 2019 to extend TPS to an estimated 200,000 eligible Venezuelan nationals in the United States. A companion bill was also taken up in the Senate with bipartisan support, but has been stalled since fall of 2019 when the legislation failed to pass by unanimous consent. In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic and Venezuela’s severely under-resourced health system, Venezuelans who are detained and deported from the United States could be sent back to face an even more dire humanitarian crisis. While the Trump administration has released some Venezuelan migrants from detention centers, hundreds remain in immigration lockup; additionally, Venezuelans are said to make up more than one-third of all asylum claims filed at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than any other country.
The humanitarian protections granted under TPS would provide Venezuelans with work permits, better enabling them to earn a livelihood and afford critically-needed medicine and health care. As states and cities enact quarantine and shelter-in-place measures, those who are unable to work and earn a livelihood in the formal economy are facing grave economic and public health risks.
While the Trump administration has failed to designate Venezuela for TPS, the humanitarian crisis inside the country has only continued to escalate. Those living in Venezuela face widespread shortages of electricity, medicine, and other basic necessities, while a recent report by the UN World Food Programme estimated that one in three Venezuelans does not have reliable access to food. An estimated 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years, putting Venezuela on track to surpass Syria as the largest displacement crisis in the world by the end of 2020.
“Most South American nations with bigger flows of Venezuelan migrants and smaller resource bases have been able to provide them with some sort of protected status in recognition of their situation as forced migrants,” said David Smilde, WOLA Senior Fellow. “The United States should be a leader, not an outlier, in addressing this regional challenge.”