Democrats in the U.S. Senate plan to fast-track a bill that would grant Venezuelans in the United States Temporary Protected Status, the latest attempt to appeal to Venezuelans in Florida seven weeks before Election Day.
Two Democratic senators, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Dick Durbin of Illinois, will attempt to pass a bill that grants TPS to Venezuelans — allowing them to live and work legally in the U.S. for a limited time without threat of deportation — through a process in the Senate called unanimous consent. The move, which is essentially a voice vote, bypasses usual Senate procedure and provides a speedy way to pass legislation, but it fails if one senator opposes it.
Republicans are expected to block the bill’s passage.
The bill was authored by Florida members of Congress from both sides of the aisle: Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, from Miami, and Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, from Kissimmee.
Menendez said the effort, though largely symbolic, will help spotlight an issue that President Donald Trump could fix. “The fact of the matter is we have 200,000 Venezuelans who are currently in the U.S. and essentially at risk of deportation,” he said. “The president has all the authority he needs in the world to provide TPS and he hasn’t, so we’re trying to act.”
Menendez said a federal court decision on Monday that overturned a lower court’s temporary injunction to prevent Trump from terminating TPS for countries like Haiti blunts arguments from Republicans like Florida Sen. Rick Scott that TPS isn’t temporary and can extend for decades. Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals were granted TPS in 1999 after the two countries were devastated by Hurricane Mitch. Haiti was granted TPS in 2011 after the 2010 earthquake.
Scott attempted to pass a conservative overhaul of the Temporary Protected Status system in September 2019 in exchange for extending TPS to Venezuelans, but Democrats blocked the effort.
“We presented an alternative that Democrats have blocked,” Scott spokesperson Chris Hartline said. “The politics internally in the Senate is still complicated. It doesn’t seem like there’s going to be much of a resolution.”
In a statement, Durbin said Democrats were forced to bring up the bill again on the floor because Republicans have no interest in using normal procedure to debate and vote on TPS.
“Despite the chest thumping to audiences in Florida about taking on the Venezuelan dictatorship, President Trump has, in fact, turned his back on Venezuelans in the U.S. in need of protection,” said Durbin, who also spoke with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó ahead of Wednesday’s action. “Since the White House wouldn’t act, more than one year ago the House passed a bipartisan bill granting TPS to Venezuelans. But the Majority Leader [Mitch McConnell] still refuses to bring up any bill that might displease President Trump.”
Immigration advocates in Miami on Tuesday said the federal court decision means the future of TPS for Venezuelans and other countries will be decided on Election Day, when voters choose the president. There were about 400,000 Venezuelans living in the U.S. as of 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute, though many have become naturalized citizens. TPS is for non-citizens.
“There is no question about it, TPS is on the ballot on Nov. 3,” Miami Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala said during a virtual press conference with the Family Action Network Movement on Tuesday. “We’ve got to tell our friends and neighbors that decency and opportunity is on the ballot on Nov. 3. This decision is outrageous.”
The Biden campaign on Tuesday called the court decision “senseless”
“This is senseless and a stark reminder that Donald Trump is willfully tearing families apart and sending TPS holders back to devastating conditions for the sole purpose of pursuing his racist, anti-immigrant agenda,” Biden’s national Latino media director Jennifer Molina said in a statement. “TPS recipients and their families, whether from Nicaragua, Haiti, or any country affected by this inhumane decision, should be assured that Joe Biden will continue to fight for a fair, humane, and orderly immigration system that is defined by compassion, not cruelty.”
Marleine Bastien, a Haitian activist whose Family Action Network Movement is a plaintiff in a TPS lawsuit filed in New York, echoed Shalala’s sentiments. She said advocates like her will continue to fight on behalf of the estimated 400,000 TPS holders affected by Monday’s court decision and will continue to urge Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Scott “to put their action where their mouths are and support TPS recipients.”
“We ask Sen. Rubio and Sen. Scott to raise their voices on behalf of the people who have TPS, raise their voices on behalf of the families of those with TPS so that we can find a permanent solution for these people and their children,” Bastien said in Creole during the call.
Under the decision, the earliest any of the TPS holders from Nicaragua, Sudan or Haiti would be affected would be March. Nationals of El Salvador wouldn’t find themselves in deportation proceedings until November.
The case is one of several TPS-related lawsuits against the Trump administration in the U.S. federal courts. Haitians currently are protected by another temporary injunction, this one issued last year by U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz of the Eastern District of New York. In a 145-page federal ruling that the administration has since appealed, Kuntz issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing DHS from terminating TPS for Haitians.
Kuntz said 50,000 to 60,000 Haitians and their U.S.-born children would suffer “irreparable harm” if the legal protection ended and they were forced to return to a country that is not safe.
“This administration could grant TPS on its own, but it refuses,” Durbin said. “Senate Republicans could pass the bipartisan House bill to grant Venezuelans TPS, but they also refuse. So let everyone be clear where the real failure to help Venezuelans in the U.S. rests.”