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Latin America Report

Why Biden Granted Venezuelans TPS — And What It Means For South Florida

Venezuelans in Doral demonstrating for TPS in 2019.

On Monday, because of the terrible humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, President Biden granted Venezuelans currently living in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

It means more than 300,000 eligible Venezuelans, most of whom are here in South Florida, can live and work legally in the U.S. for 18 months. After that time, TPS can and likely will be renewed.

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WLRN anchor Christine DiMattei spoke with Americas editor Tim Padgett about why Biden took this action and what it means for the Venezuelan community.

DIMATTEI: Tim, we were more or less expecting this move from the Biden Administration, weren't we?

PADGETT: Yes. He pledged during his campaign that Venezuelans would get Temporary Protected Status one way or another. The only question was whether he'd push to get TPS passed in Congress or make it an executive action. He took the latter route, I think, because he's already got a lot on his legislative plate and because the crisis in Venezuela is getting deeper — the regime repression, the worst economic collapse in the world today and the worst violent crime in South America.

But didn't President Trump, just before he left office in January, give Venezuelans here a similar kind of protection?

He did. What he ordered for Venezuelans was DED, or Deferred Enforced Departure. That also gave them protection from deportation for 18 months and lets them work in the U.S. legally. But TPS grants them more of a legal immigration status that DED does not.

So how are Venezuelans here reacting to this?

TPS is something Venezuelan exiles have been wanting for years. Their argument was, If things are bad enough in Venezuela that President Trump was threatening to invade the country, then why aren't we getting legal protection from being sent back to that country? I spoke yesterday with a young Venezuelan woman here in Miami named Daniela — she asked us not to use her last name because she's not here legally at the moment. She came here to escape the awful economic and violent crime conditions back in the Venezuelan city of Maracay:

DANIELA: I feel very relieved because I was so scared that I have to go back. I'm here because I was almost kidnapped in Maracay. So I applied for the student visa to study here in the United States. But my visa already expired; I cannot stay here. But now we have the TPS. So I can help my family in Maracay — send money, send food. Everything.

What are the political ramifications of what Biden has done?

You'll remember polls showed two-thirds of Venezuelan voters in Florida went for Trump in November because they believed Trump would bring down Venezuela's socialist regime — and because he convinced them Biden was a socialist, right? Which was of course a lie.

Well, don't be surprised if this brings a lot of those Venezuelans back toward Biden. Something else that young woman, Daniela, told me was how much she resented the fact that Trump could have granted Venezuelans TPS years ago, but he didn't because that would have angered his anti-immigration political base. So he only gave them DED, and he didn't do even that until his last day in office.

Do you expect conditions any time soon to improve in Venezuela to the extent that exiles here won't need TPS?

No. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro looks as entrenched in power as ever, and more Venezuelans than ever are fleeing the country — the total is now almost a fifth of the population just in the past five or six years.

That's why the Biden Administration also said yesterday it's gearing up to slap more targeted economic sanctions on the Maduro regime, in the hopes that democracy can get restored there more quickly and fix Venezuela's humanitarian catastrophe. Otherwise, we can expect to see a lot of Venezuelan TPS extensions in the coming years. And we should emphasize this temporary protected status is being granted only to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before Monday, March 8th.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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