Florida politicians began expressing their support for expanding a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, aligning themselves with a growing chorus of Venezuelan activists who are pushing the Trump administration to take additional action.
Sen. Bill Nelson said Friday at an event in Little Haiti that he wants the Trump administration to grant Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan nationals already in the United States.
“Just as in Haiti with natural disasters, there is a political disaster in Venezuela,” Nelson said. “Increasingly, with the economic chaos in Venezuela ... I think Venezuelans ought to be considered.”
The TPS program allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. President Donald Trump, who continues to espouse a tough-on-immigration line, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to another country.
“I’ve been to the White House and talked to the national-security people about this,” Nelson said. “They have it under consideration, and we’ll see what they intend to do.”
Trump, not Congress, must make the decision.
Nelson’s position has bipartisan support, as Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said they support extending TPS to Venezuelans.
“I'm in favor of TPS for Venezuelans, as well as for Haitians and other groups in our community who contribute greatly to our area and whose native country lacks the most basic commodities,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “However, raising false hopes is not productive so I advocate for our immigration system to be more compassionate when individual cases come before those officials.”
Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “I strongly support granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all eligible Venezuelans who seek safe haven from a regime that has employed official violence and political oppression, and left that nation devastated by food and medical shortages. President Trump must grant this essential status for the safety of Venezuelans who came to the U.S. out of fear for theirs and their families’ safety.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Gov. Rick Scott — all Florida Republicans who have urged tough sanctions against Venezuela after Maduro installed a constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the nation’s constitution — did not immediately respond to requests for comments on the TPS program.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo said through a spokeswoman that a “permanent solution” is his top priority, but “he welcomes the TPS effort for the short-term.” This year, Curbelo introduced a bill that would allow Venezuelans who arrived before 2013 to seek permanent-resident status.
The White House through a spokesperson said that Trump is “considering all diplomatic and financial options against the Maduro regime to help ensure the people of Venezuela are successful in restoring democracy to their country.”
The TPS program is designed to help individuals affected by “ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, an epidemic or other extraordinary and temporary conditions,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. More than 120 people have died in anti-government protests in Venezuela in recent months and rapid inflation and corruption have led to widespread hunger and poor medical care throughout the country.
Nelson, Ros-Lehtinen, and Wasserman Schultz joined the Miami-Dade County Commission in calling for an extension of TPS to Venezuelans. Miami-Dade is home to the largest number of Venezuelans in the United States. A petition to the White House calling for TPS for Venezuelans has received more than 125,000 signatures, and any petition with more than 100,000 signatures requires a formal response from the White House.
The U.S. banned trades of Venezuelan debt on Friday, the first economic penalties imposed by the Trump administration against Venezuela after the widely condemned July 30 election of the constituent assembly, which has assumed most government powers.