Juan Guaidó’s U.S. representatives back TPS for Venezuelans

Over the past five months, Juan Guaidó’s U.S. representatives have refrained from weighing in on Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans, aware that some officials within the Trump administration oppose any expansion of immigration programs.

That changed on Monday.

Guaidó’s deputy chief of mission in the U.S., Gustavo Marcano, joined Democratic U.S. Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell at a Doral press conference Monday to speak in favor of extending TPS to Venezuelans currently residing in the U.S.

Mucarsel-Powell said that Guaidó’s representatives have discussed expanding TPS privately for some time, though they announced it publicly for the first time Monday. Guaidó himself still has not requested it in writing, but discussions are ongoing.

“They’ve been asking for it. We’ve been talking about it. We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “When you flee a country, the idea for so many immigrants who come here when they’re fleeing violence is that they’re going to be able to go back to their country right away. I think that also they’re realizing this is taking longer than maybe they expected and deporting Venezuelans back is not the answer.”

Expanding TPS, a temporary program that allows people to live and work in the U.S. without the fear of deportation, to Venezuelans has bipartisan support among South Florida lawmakers, including Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Some conservative Republicans are opposed to expanding a program that the Trump administration has sought to curtail for Haitians, Nicaraguans, Hondurans and Salvadorans over the past two years, although Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy for Venezuela, said during a congressional hearing in March that TPS is “under review.”

“Donald Trump, for all the support he has proposed for Venezuelans and the transition for a democratic government there, he could tremendously relieve the pressure on Venezuelans here in the U.S. if forced to go back by granting TPS,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “If there’s any community that expresses the need for TPS, it’s the Venezuelan community.”

Wasserman Schultz said it’s unclear how many Venezuelans would benefit from the designation, but noted that any threat of deportation from the U.S. for people forced to leave Venezuela due to Nicolás Maduro’s policies is counterproductive for the administration’s desire for free and fair elections.

There are as many as 300,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S., estimates Seth Schwartz, a University of Miami professor who released a study last year that looked at why Venezuelans were leaving their country and how they fared in the U.S. and in Colombia. That study, conducted in late 2017, found 200,000 Venezuelans have settled in South Florida since 2014.

There were more than 27,000 asylum requests in 2017 from Venezuelans — a 13-fold increase over the year 2014. Since the study was released, Schwartz says there have been more than 33,000 asylum requests filed by Venezuelans.

“This is probably our number one immigrant group at this point, at least in this part of the country,” he said.

As Guaidó’s representatives backed TPS, Mucarsel-Powell also called on the Trump administration to cease deportations of exiles who have fled poverty and chaos in the country.

“We are immediately calling for a moratorium on non-criminal deportations of Venezuelans. Seeking refuge from a brutal dictatorship in this country should not be a crime,” she said, flanked by Marcano. “The situation in Venezuela is exactly the type of situation that TPS was designed for.”

Though TPS is run by the Department of Homeland Security and the agency decides whether or not to grant or extend TPS based on current conditions, members of Congress introduced a bill in January to expand the program to Venezuelans. The TPS bill, sponsored by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Central Florida Rep. Darren Soto, has 27 additional cosponsors.

“We’re talking about people who fled, in many cases who sought asylum, who had their businesses confiscated, who are fearing for the lives of their children, all going back to [Hugo] Chávez,” Wasserman Schultz said. “These are people who would have legitimate reason to fear what would happen to them if they returned.”

Wasserman Schultz was traveling to Colombia on Monday to speak at a summit with Arkansas Republican Rep. French Hill to discuss Venezuela and ongoing efforts to combat drug trafficking. Scott is also attending the summit and is planning to do a press conference with Colombian President Iván Duque, a U.S. ally whom Trump criticized during a recent visit to Lake Okeechobee.

“We’ve repeatedly asked representatives of the administration to grant TPS, to get it done. They’ve repeatedly said it’s under review,” said Shalala, whose Miami district includes an estimated 17,000 Venezuelans. “Now that Juan Guaidó has asked for it, they ought to respond.”