The White House is considering special protected immigration status to Venezuelans, a move that would prevent undocumented immigrants from the embattled South American country from being deported.
According to five people familiar with the discussions, the White House has been having high-level discussions about the possibility of granting Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to Venezuelans in the United States, which would give qualified recipients the chance to legally remain in the country and get work permits.
Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s special envoy to Venezuela, has been one of the officials championing the cause at the White House. The idea also has received the support of Vice President Mike Pence, who earlier this week met in Colombia with Juan Guaidó, the internationally recognized interim president of Venezuela.
Venezuelan-American activists, immigrant advocates and South Florida lawmakers have been lobbying the Trump administration to protect undocumented Venezuelan immigrants. But hard-line immigration activists also have taken notice of the discussions and have started to fight back — arguing that TPS is not the proper way to address the crisis.
Supporters say this is what the TPS program is designed for to help nationals who can’t safely return to their home country.
Fernando Cutz, a former senior director at the National Security Council in the Trump administration, said from a messaging standpoint it would assist the administration as it lobbies world leaders to show the United States has “some of our skin in the game.”
“If they move through with it, it shows that the administration cares about the people of Venezuela, that there is a real humanitarian concern for the crisis and that the administration is taking it seriously,” Cutz said. “It would be a particularly strong message from this administration given that they have a strong hard line on immigration in general.”
The issue is expected to come up on Thursday when Abrams testifies on Venezuela before Sen. Marco Rubio’s Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
The issue has been a top priority for Rubio who teamed up this week with U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to introduce the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2019, a bill that would immediately grant TPS to eligible Venezuelans fleeing the dire conditions in their home country.
Notably, the Trump administration has been fighting to end TPS, arguing that the temporary status is anything but temporary.
Congress created TPS in 1990, allowing more than 300,000 immigrants from about a dozen countries to remain in the United States. The administration sought to let TPS expire for most countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Liberia and Nepal and soon found the cases tied up in the courts.
In October, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen granted a preliminary injunction, stopping the administration and Department of Homeland Security from terminating TPS for immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan.
In compliance with that ruling, Homeland Security announced Thursday it was extending TPS for immigrants from Haiti and three other countries until January 2020.
In light of that case, the possibility of granting TPS to another group of immigrants has raised concerns among some conservative immigration groups who said the situation is better addressed through the asylum system.
Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he was sympathetic to the conditions in Venezuela, but said TPS — which he described as an “ongoing amnesty program” — is not the right way to handle the issue.
“Until such time that TPS can be proven to actually be temporary, we no longer support use of the program,” Stein said. “It’s just absurd that to suggest the situation in Venezuela, which may be resolved in the next three months or sooner, that there should be a grant for TPS for everybody when apparently it will go on indefinitely.”
Florida Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart and Darren Soto also Introduced legislation in the House to protect Venezuelans in the United States.
The White House would not comment on consideration of TPS.