With an economic crisis in Venezuela causing refugees to flee to Florida and other parts of the U.S., Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala of Miami says a decision may be coming soon on whether to grant special legal status for Venezuelan immigrants.
Shalala was among those in the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives that voted last month to offer Venezuelan refugees so-called “temporary protected status” in the United States, which will give them the right to work here.
The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has yet to follow suit.
Every Democrat in the House voted to give Venezuelans temporary protected status, and 49 Republicans did as well. The idea is also supported by both of Florida’s Republican U.S. Senators: Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. Rubio is a co-sponsor of the proposal in the Senate.
Shortages of food and medicine, hyperinflation and continuing political discontent in Venezuela are causing the major humanitarian crisis, leading to more than four million people to flee, the United Nations reported in June.
The Congressional Budget Office has reported that approximately 200,000 Venezuelans who are seeking refuge in the U.S. would be eligible for temporary protected status.
Generally, it’s been up the Department of Homeland Security – and not Congress – to offer temporary protected status to eligible foreign nationals. The special status is sometimes awarded to people fleeing armed conflict, environmental disaster, epidemic, or another extraordinary and temporary condition in their home country. While it grants the right to work in the U.S., temporary protected status doesn’t provide a pathway to citizenship.
“The votes are there in the Senate if the Majority Leader (Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell) will allow a vote,” Shalala said on a conference call. “It’s outrageous that the (Trump) administration has not come out and said, ‘we support this.’”
Geoff Ramsey is the assistant director for Venezuela in the Washington office on Latin America. Back from a recent trip along the Brazilian/Venezuelan border, he said he interviewed dozens of refugees who left the South American nation with “virtually nothing.”
“In many of these cases, these are people who lived middle-class lives until recently, and saw their savings and assets just wiped out by hyperinflation,” he said.
Ramsey added he met one man who now says he can make more money selling oranges on the streets in Brazil then working as a technician for the state oil company in Venezuela.
Venezuelan immigrants aren’t the only ones waiting for a decision about temporary protected status. The Trump administration last year attempted to end temporary protected status for 300,000 Honduran, Salvadoran, Haitian and Sudanese nationals. Due to a legal challenge, its implementation has been delayed.
If temporary protected status were to be offered to Venezuelans, Shalala says nonprofit organizations are poised to start registering people.
At this point, Latin American countries are hosting the vast majority of Venezuelan migrants. According to the UN, Columbia hosts 1.3 million, the most of any other nation. Shalala says that such an influx of refugees can be destabilizing.
“We’re very concerned about whether Columbia can absorb that number without additional aid assistance,” she said.
Shalala represents parts of Miami-Dade County, which, along with Broward County, has a large Venezuelan community. She said she believes the House’s vote to provide temporary protected status for Venezuelans last month puts “considerable pressure” on the Senate and/or the president to act in the affirmative before the end of the year.