July 25, 2020 marks one year since a bill that would designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela has been stalled in the Senate while the president continues to pledge support for the Venezuelan people. The Department of Homeland Security also has authority to designate TPS but has failed to act.
TPS for Venezuela would protect at least 200,000 people in the United States from the massive humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, which has so-far caused 5.2 million people to flee. The need for protection has grown even more dire with the COVID-19 pandemic. Venezuela only has 84 ICU beds for 28 million people. The lack of TPS and access to asylum has resulted in at least hundreds of Venezuelans trapped in U.S. detention centers, exposed to the deadly coronavirus.
On the one-year anniversary of the Senate bill languishing, Venezuela and TPS experts weighed in:
- “We often hear that the United States stands in full support of the Venezuelan people. But the continued inaction on TPS seems to suggest that U.S. concern for Venezuelans ends when they are forced to flee their country,” said Geoff Ramsey, Director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “Fleeing Venezuelans deserve a robust, coordinated response across our hemisphere, not a race to the bottom. The United States should be encouraging partner nations in Latin America to expand access to regular status and essential services for fleeing Venezuelans, and can lead by example in offering greater protections to Venezuelans in our own borders.”
- “Over the past few years, the administration has placed asylum out of reach for nearly everyone seeking safety at U.S. shores, including for Venezuelan asylum-seekers fleeing persecution from a regime senior U.S. officials themselves have described as brutal and autocratic,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA. “Because of cruel U.S. asylum policies, Venezuelans seeking safety here have been subject to prolonged detention, forcibly sent to dangerous and precarious conditions along the Mexico/U.S. border, and separated from their family members by U.S. authorities. Extending Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans is a long-overdue and necessary step to ensure that people seeking safety can access it.”
- “The temporary suspension of deportations to Venezuelan and low asylum grant rates, if people have access to asylum at all, have left at least hundreds of Venezuelans trapped in U.S. detention centers, where COVID-19 spreads like wildfire,” said Julio Henriquez, an attorney serving Venezuelans in detention and volunteer with Venezuelan human rights organization, Foro Penal. “Take Paola, a university professor that fled Venezuela to save her life. She has been in detention for more than one year now. She requested asylum at a port of entry, as the authorities demand, followed every rule, and despite having a compelling asylum case, she was ordered deported and has been awaiting a response to her appeal with no avenues for her release. She is in isolation at a detention center due to the infection of multiple of her roommates with coronavirus. Joaquin, another detainee, has already recovered from coronavirus and fears being infected again, or being the carrier of the infection to others, as he was released from isolation when his symptoms improved but no new test was taken. It takes significant time and effort to secure releases, which must generally be done on a case by case basis. A TPS designation would provide status and help get this incredibly vulnerable population out of detention. These Venezuelans who are slipping through the cracks are the exact population Congress intended to protect when it created TPS.”
- Niurka Meléndez, Co-Founder and Community Organizer at Venezuelans and Immigrants Aid (VIA) said: “As an organization serving Venezuelan asylum seekers and other Venezuelans in vulnerable situations, VIA knows firsthand the impact TPS would have to stabilize people’s lives. The lives and freedom of so many of the Venezuelans VIA serves every day are at risk. No displaced Venezuelan in need of protection should be left in limbo.”
- “Human Rights Watch has been calling for TPS for Venezuela since early 2019 to protect people from the country’s ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Acting Americas Deputy Director at Human Rights Watch. “Without TPS in place, otherwise deportable Venezuelans in the U.S. are at risk of forced return to a country with rampant arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, high levels of food insecurity, and a collapsed healthcare system. Now all of this is compounded with COVID 19. TPS should be put in place immediately to protect the human rights of Venezuelans who are present in the United States. If the administration won’t act, Congress should.”
- Jill Marie Bussey, Director of Advocacy at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., said, “TPS was created by Congress to provide life-saving protection to people in the United States who cannot safely return to their country — the situation that Venezuelans are facing today. Both the administration and Congress have the power right now to designate TPS for Venezuela to ensure that hundreds of thousands of people are not returned to a devastating humanitarian situation The politicization of this crisis, and resulting failure to act, is inhumane and morally reprehensible. Furthermore, not using TPS as Congress intended undermines our system of laws.”
- Andrea Carcamo, Senior Policy Counsel at the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) said: “Among the thousands of Venezuelans who have come to the United States seeking refuge, there are many survivors of torture. In fact, both of CVT’s U.S.-based centers are currently working with Venezuelans who have survived torture. If Venezuelan survivors had the choice to apply for TPS instead of asylum, it would bring a real sense of relief for those who dread having to bring up their torture experiences, which is required for asylum.”
- “At a time when the tides of mass trauma, displacement, and instability are accelerating globally, providing refuge for survivors of crisis is foundational to any humane and just strategy towards Venezuela,” said Mariam Iskajyan, Advocacy and Policy Program Manager at Win Without War. “Words of solidarity for the Venezuelan people mean little if the U.S. won’t uphold them through action. By protecting human lives from the threat of deportation and potential death sentences, TPS would help reorient U.S. foreign policy in the region away from exploitation and instability, towards a brighter future rooted in dignity, justice, and security for all.”