The Trump administration has spent the past two years rolling back Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans amid a larger push to curtail immigration, but Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is convinced that Venezuela is different.
The Miami Republican who represents Doral, the U.S. city with the largest percentage of Venezuelan-born residents, is introducing a bill that would extend TPS to Venezuelans due to the ongoing humanitarian crisis and crackdown on democracy. Diaz-Balart says the Trump administration’s tough talk against president Nicolás Maduro and the current use of tax dollars for humanitarian aid shows that the administration could be open to supporting an expansive immigration policy.
“It’s pretty clear they understand the situation in Venezuela, the nature of that dictatorship,” Diaz-Balart said. “We’re spending $95 million on humanitarian funds for the most acute crisis this hemisphere has seen. We can’t return or send Venezuelans back as well.”
TPS is a temporary program administered by the Department of Homeland Security that allows immigrants from a country suffering from natural disasters or political unrest to work and live in the United States for a period of time without the threat of deportation. DHS, with guidance from the White House, decides whether or not to extend or end TPS for a given country based on changes in the country’s political situation or capacity to provide basic services.
Diaz-Balart introduced his bill, called the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019, along with Florida Democratic Rep. Darren Soto. Other South Florida lawmakers are expected to sign on. A companion measure has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menendez, Diaz-Balart said. The bill’s introduction in the first weeks of a new Congress gives it more time to potentially become law.
Diaz-Balart said Venezuela is “the most obvious, logical” country for a new designation given the current situation, as the U.S. government considers recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s leader. He said it’s unclear how many Venezuelans would benefit from extending TPS, though census figures show that the Venezuelan immigrant population has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 350,000 people. Florida is home to the largest concentration of Venezuelans of any state and Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have the largest Venezuelan populations within the state.
Newly elected Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala has said extending TPS to Venezuela is a major priority for her, and she wants to work with Diaz-Balart on the issue. She also plans to introduce legislation that would restrict U.S. exports of materials like tear gas and riot gear to the Venezuelan government.
“Congresswoman Shalala is committed to expanding TPS for Venezuelans and protecting current immigrants under TPS that have been affected by President Trump’s immigration policies,” Shalala press secretary Joseph Puente said in an email.
Diaz-Balart said the bipartisan support of the Florida delegation is important for the legislation’s future in a Democratic-controlled House with a Republican Senate and president. The bill was introduced as a standalone measure separate from other immigration proposals so it has a better chance of passing on its own, Diaz-Balart said.
“One of the reasons that we’re trying to keep this separate is because we think it’s a very specific set of circumstances,” Diaz-Balart said. “This legislation, this situation is specific to this hemisphere, to a country where...we have the largest refugee crisis in this hemisphere. It’s part of a cancer. It’s in Havana, it’s in Managua, it’s in Caracas, but Venezuela is a situation that is certainly unique.”