Garcia: Aid those who fled Chávez

Cuban-American U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami, announced Monday that when the immigration reform debate begins in the House he will present an amendment that would grant permanent residence to tens of thousands of undocumented Venezuelans living in the United States.

“Many of these people have spent a big part of their lives here,” Garcia said at a press conference at his office in west Miami-Dade County. “Many are people who attend schools with our children, who are business partners with us and who live in a very difficult status and we want to give them a forward solution.”

Garcia’s Venezuelan Liberty Act is a response to requests from leaders of the growing Venezuelan community nationwide to provide immigration relief to undocumented Venezuelans, many of whom not only lack immigration papers but also fear they will be persecuted and tortured if they are sent back to their country.

Garcia’s proposal is the first concrete action in the form of a bill that would benefit Venezuelan immigrants who are in the country illegally and do not have a police record. If the proposal were to become law, it would grant green cards to Venezuelans who have arrived in the U.S. from Feb. 2, 1999, when Hugo Chávez took office as president of Venezuela, until now, according to an explanatory sheet from Garcia’s office.

Although the document did not offer specifics, Garcia said that the conditions under which Venezuelans would receive residence status would conform to the parameters of any immigration reform legislation approved by Congress. Under a bipartisan proposal by eight senators, including Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, undocumented immigrants would have to wait up to 10 years to apply for residence. Under President Barack Obama’s proposal, the wait would be about eight years.

Garcia said the dates in his proposal cover Venezuelans who have arrived here during the years Chávez has been in power. He said that unlike the Cuban Adjustment Act, which gives every Cuban who arrives in the U.S. without a visa the right to apply for residence after a year and one day, his bill would only benefit Venezuelans who are already here. He said his plan is not open-ended because he does not want to encourage more Venezuelans to come to the U.S. simply to obtain an immigration benefit.

Garcia said between 85,000 and 160,000 undocumented Venezuelans nationwide would be covered by his proposal. Leaders of the Venezuelan community said more than 70 percent of undocumented Venezuelans live in South Florida.

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