Miami-Dade commissioners on Monday urged President Donald Trump to extend temporary immigration protections to Venezuelans as their government cracks down on democratic institutions and pushes the South American nation further into economic chaos.
“I hope that this action we are taking here today, my colleagues, resonates throughout the world so the people who are fighting each and every day in Venezuela know that we hear them and we support them and we are with them,” said Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, whose district includes Doral, home to one of Miami-Dade’s largest Venezuelan populations.
The resolution, passed unanimously, adds to a long list of symbolic declarations the county board has made to the president and Congress urging various federal actions. This piece of legislation stood out for the process that passed it: A majority of commissioners signed Diaz’s request for an emergency meeting to pass the resolution, causing a rare interruption to the board’s official August recess.
I hope … the people who are fighting each and every day in Venezuela know that we hear them and we support them and we are with them.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz
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With a single item on the agenda, commissioners heard from Venezuelans living in the United States who condemned President Nicolás Maduro and warned of a once-prosperous country melting down through a dictatorship.
“We are victims of a government that betrayed us,” said Daniela Capriles, a Doral resident and a daughter of jailed opposition leader Antonio Ledezma. “We are in this terrible position of looking for asylum and looking for places to go.”
“Venezuela is currently undergoing the worst institutional crisis in its history,” Alejandro Rebolledo, a justice on the Venezuelan Supreme Court who recently fled to the United States, told commissioners in Spanish. “It’s military justice that is ruling and acting out on Venezuelans. There is no due process.”
Rafael Poleo is the founder of the Caracas newspaper El Nuevo País and the weekly magazine Zeta. He now presides over both from his home in Coral Gables. He began his remarks to the commission by thanking Miami for giving him “asylum.”
“The suffering that’s going on in Venezuela is savage,” he said through the meeting’s translator. “It’s as if it just doesn’t matter to the rest of the world.”
The resolution passed Monday triggers a letter to Trump from the commission and Mayor Carlos Gimenez urging the federal government to grant “temporary protected status” to all Venezuelans living in the United States. The status is reserved for citizens of countries under extraordinary strain, such as from a natural disaster or government failure, and temporarily halts rules that otherwise require the citizens to return home.
Haitians were granted the status in 2011 after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, and the protections are set to expire in January 2018. Citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are also set to lose temporary protections next year. The Miami-Dade commission voted earlier this year to endorse extending temporary protections for Haitians.
Several elected officials used Monday’s meeting to compare Venezuela with Cuba, suggesting the world was watching a repeat of Fidel Castro’s takeover of a once-thriving nation.
“We’ve seen this movie before in our homeland,” said Gimenez, who was born in Cuba and came to the United States as a young boy in 1960. “We’ve had the same kind of people take over our country, using a different methodology, using a different vehicle. Which is democracy. Now that democracy no longer works for them, now they’re going to do what they want to do. Basically rewrite the constitution so it will become a dictatorship.”
Immigration and the Trump administration brought Miami-Dade one of its largest political controversies in recent years when Gimenez, in early 2017, reversed county policy and began honoring detention requests from Washington for people booked on local charges while being sought for deportation. The change was designed to avoid Trump’s promised cut-off of federal funds to local governments offering “sanctuary” to immigration violators, and one commissioner took a dig at the mayor over the issue during the Venezuela discussion.
“As we call out to our federal government, let us remember that there are thousands here who need to feel reassured that we will protect them right here,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.