The U.S. is a step closer to granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans.
On Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill sponsored by two Florida lawmakers: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Miami-Dade) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee). Other members of the South Florida congressional delegation, including Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Miami-Dade) and Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Miami-Dade), have been pushing for the bill’s passage.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson and WLRN's Americas editor Tim Padgett spoke with Mucarsel-Powell and Diaz-Balart about the House vote last week and what it means for the overall U.S. government’s position against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s authoritarian regime.
Here's an excerpt of their conversation:
TIM PADGETT: How were you able to accelerate the process to get a vote in before Congress goes on recess this weekend?
REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL: We wanted to expedite the process by bringing it under a suspension vote on Tuesday. It was very interesting to see that only 37 Republicans voted with us. We did need the two-thirds majority. After that vote, what also the Democratic caucus and leadership saw is that every single Democrat did support this measure. So we were able to, with the help, of course, of my colleague and friend Donna Shalala, who is on the Rules Committee, I was able to pass the TPS for Venezuela through the Judiciary Committee in a very fast manner.
So we were able to bring it to a vote [Thursday] and again we saw that over 180 Republicans voted against it. For all the talk, that we hear from this president and this administration that they want to support the Venezuelan people again yesterday, we saw that many Republicans are not where they need to be in this issue.
TOM HUDSON: There was a change in process in order for this vote to happen and for it to find the simple majority on Thursday. Were there any changes in the policy that was proposed in this legislation in order for the vote to happen?
MUCARSEL-POWELL: The bill remained the same. It applies to Venezuelans who have been here continuously. For the Venezuelans who are already living here in the United States. And it will allow for them to remain here for 18 months temporarily.
HUDSON: Is there a start date for those Venezuelans?
MUCARSEL-POWELL: It will start that day that the bill is enacted and signed.
HUDSON: But for those Venezuelans that are here already. At what point do those Venezuelans become eligible for TPS under this legislation, For those that may not be eligible for it?
MUCARSEL-POWELL: For the ones that are here in the United States they will all become eligible.
HUDSON: Regardless of when they arrived?
MUCARSEL-POWELL: Yes, yes, yes. But they have to go through the vetting process. You have to apply. You have to pay a fee to be able to apply to be eligible for TPS. But it does have to be signed into law before they can start applying. And that's why I think it's important that the Senate takes this bill up as soon as possible.
HUDSON: Congressman, have you received any assurances from President Trump that he will sign this legislation if it's approved by the Senate?
REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART: I've been in contact with the administration for quite some time. We have to recall what what's happening here. This administration has been frankly positive on helping the Venezuelan people in the cause for freedom. That's a big contrast from what we had for the last eight years. This administration understands, as well, that what's happening on the ground in Venezuela.
You'll notice that, for example, the administration did not do a statement of administrative policy -- in other words a veto threat on this legislation. It's kind of a routine thing that they'll do these letters if they have objections or issues with it. That was not done, and that was not done because I've been in contact and others have been in contact with the administration.
PADGETT: Congressmen, as the co-sponsor of this bill, do you feel, as most Venezuelans here feel, that for President Trump not to sign this legislation would be a gross inconsistency between the rhetoric in which we're saying that the regime in Venezuela is dangerous enough to both Venezuelans and to our own national security to pursue overthrowing it? Yet we'd be saying at the same time the Venezuelans who are escaping that regime are not worth protecting?
DIAZ-BALART: The only disagreement I would have on your statement is that it's not only rhetoric about what it's doing a vis-a-vis Venezuelan dictatorship it's actually action as you well know.
PADGETT: I'll grant you that. Yes.
DIAZ-BALART: I've stated this publicly. I said on the floor of the House. I said it to whoever will listen -- including the administration. It would be totally unacceptable, while this reality, this dictatorship, is not only destroying the Venezuelan in the country but it's also repressing its people, to send Venezuelans back to that country. That would be absolutely unacceptable. I don't know if I can say it in any stronger terms. That's why we filed this bill because precisely I think it would be beyond unacceptable to send Venezuelans back to Venezuela under the current circumstances.