The parents of Juan Escalante have lived in the United States for 17 years. They might benefit if President Donald Trump approves Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for undocumented Venezuelan immigrants like them.
But Escalante does not believe that will happen.
“The truth is that I don’t know. This administration is so unpredictable,” said Escalante, a young immigration activist who lives in Weston. “What we see daily are not actions to help the immigrant community, including Venezuelans, but deportations right and left.”
Like Escalante, immigration lawyers said there’s little chance that a new TPS can be approved in the current U.S. political environment. Still, the calls for granting TPS to Venezuelans are growing as turmoil prevails in the South American nation and even as the Trump administration has not committed to renewing TPS for Haitians or for Central American and African migrants.
“It’s not a matter of whether they deserve it. I think Venezuelans deserve it,” said immigration lawyer Wilfredo Allen. “But TPS is a decision of the executive branch, and I don’t see the willingness to give that protection to Venezuelans. Just think: In Haiti, there had to be clashes, hurricanes and an earthquake that killed 200,000 people for them to get it.”
Recent reports about the TPS requests for Venezuelans have led some to believe that it has, in fact, been granted. But lawyers and activists are issuing warnings.
“We are alerting the entire community that there’s no TPS benefit for Venezuelans,” said lawyer Adriana Kostencki. “Do not pay any lawyer, notary public or any other persons who tell you that they can get it for you.”
Allen said that after the Miami-Dade County Commission approved a resolution urging Trump to approve TPS for Venezuelans, he received several calls from people who believed that meant that TPS had been approved. Some of the calls came from the news media, he added.
“One journalist from an international news media asked me where the Venezuelans should apply, now that Miami had approved TPS,” said Allen. “We have to be very careful with this. That’s not in the hands of the local government, not even the U.S. Congress. That’s solely up to the president.”
‘WE HAVE TO FIGHT’
Kostencki is the president of the Venezuelan-American National Bar Association, based in Miami, which submitted a petition for TPS through a White House website. The White House is required to respond to any petition that gathers more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days. The petition already has more than 124,000 signatures.
“It’s important to point out that this is not a guarantee. The fact that we got the 100,000 signatures does not mean that it [TPS] will be approved,” said Kostencki. “We are simply trying to get it considered.”
The lobbying also comes as Vice President Mike Pence prepares to meet with members of the Venezuelan community Wednesday during a visit to Miami-Dade.
Although the road ahead seems difficult right now, Kostencki said she does not believe it’s impossible. “We are betting that President Trump is very worried about the situation in Venezuela,” she said.
In response to the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, and the recent election of a controversial Constituent Assembly, the Trump administration has adopted a string of measures to pressure President Nicolás Maduro, including sanctions on several of his allies. Trump also said that he has not ruled out a U.S. military intervention.
Kostencki noted that the State Department at the end of July issued a warning against U.S. travel to Venezuela “due to social disturbances, violent crimes and the shortage of food and medicines.”
“If the United States warns its citizens against traveling to Venezuela because of the dangers, we Venezuelans are asking for an emergency humanitarian measure because we’re also afraid of returning to our country,” Kostencki said.
“We ask that we be allowed to stay temporarily in the United States, until the situation changes, and a work permit so that the people who are here do not become a burden on society.”
A DEFINITIVE SOLUTION
For Escalante, a temporary solution is not the best way to help the estimated 150,000 Venezuelans in the United States — or any other immigrant community — because it does not lead to legal residence or citizenship.
“We are talking about recent arrivals as well as families like mine, which have been in this country for 17 years,” said Escalante, who is a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). “What we need is an immigration reform so that families that have been here a long time are not required to return to a country they no longer identify with.”
The mounting requests for TPS for Venezuelans nevertheless may put the U.S. government in a difficult position, he added.
“It would seem hypocritical that they are denouncing Maduro, imposing sanctions and even raising the possibility of a military intervention, but leaving adrift the Venezuelans who fled from that regime,” he said.
Immigration attorney Mark Prada said the TPS designation for Venezuelans will more likely depend on lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Florida Republicans.
“It’s more of a political than a humanitarian issue,” Prada said. “They should focus on the Congress members, because it is difficult. But with a lot a pressure, miracles sometimes happen.”
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar