TPS for Venezuelans passes House of Representatives, heads to U.S. Senate

The House of Representatives passed a bill to grant Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Venezuelans, the most significant legislative action to date in response to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

The TPS bill, sponsored by Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, heads to the U.S. Senate for consideration a day before the House leaves Washington for a six week recess.

The bill passed by a vote of 272-158, with 39 Republicans and one independent joining 232 Democrats in favor.

Diaz-Balart and Soto’s bill that gives Venezuelans the ability to live and work legally in the U.S. was first introduced in January but was fast-tracked by Democratic leadership on Tuesday. The bill initially needed two-thirds support to pass, but fell about 20 votes short after a majority of Republicans voted against it. Thursday’s vote only needed a simple majority for passage.

If there is any population that meets the absolute statutory definition of being granted TPS, it is the Venezuelan people who have fled a dictator who is starving his own people,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who represents one of the largest Venezuelan communities in the U.S.

There are an estimated 170,000 Venezuelans in Florida, the most of any U.S. state. Wasserman Schultz said many of her constituents have family members who are trying to claim asylum and would benefit from TPS due to ongoing political violence, hyperinflation and hunger in Venezuela.

Before the final vote, Democrats and Republicans sparred over a symbolic motion offered by Republicans to declare Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis “a direct result of years of socialist policies implemented by the regimes of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro.”

“Members of this very body continue to stand with Maduro,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., the Republican who offered the motion. His remark prompted boos from Democrats.

“I have just one thing to say to my Republican colleagues, Venezuelans don’t need your empty words. They need action now,” Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Miami, responded from the House floor.

That motion failed on a razor-thin 215-217 vote.

But the bill passed. And it now heads to the U.S. Senate, where similar TPS legislation filed by Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has yet to receive a vote. If it passes in the Senate, President Donald Trump would then decide whether to sign the bill into law.

Democrats argued that Republicans and Trump must support TPS if they want to be seen as a champion for Venezuelans living in the U.S., who are mainly concentrated in South Florida.

“Our hope is the vote today will light a fire under the Senate,” said Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Miami, who was responsible for the legislative maneuvering on the TPS bill this week.