A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Thursday presented a bill seeking temporary protected immigration status in the United States, known as TPS, for Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their country.
“The extraordinary depth of Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis has forced millions of Venezuelans to flee their country, creating upheaval that is now being felt throughout the region,” said Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who added that granting TPS was "the humanitarian and morally responsible thing to do.”
The bill is supported by two other Democrats, Dick Durbin (D-Ill) and Patrick Leahy (-Vt) and Republican Marco Rubio (R-Fl). They said the crisis in the South American country had imposed "extraordinary and temporary conditions" that prevent the citizens of Venezuela from returning safely to their country, one of the categories for granting TPS.
“Granting this protection will provide a temporary solution to many Venezuelans who fear returning to their homeland due to the ongoing crisis and extraordinarily difficult conditions," Rubio added.
While the Trump administration is a fierce critic of Venezuela's socialist government and is highly aware of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the oil-rich nation, analysts question whether the White House would support the bill after it announced an end to TPS earlier this year for more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. That decision is still tied up in the courts after a judge blocked Trump's executive order on the grounds that it could cause "irreparable harm."
The TPS program grants temporary legal status to foreigners who cannot return to their countries of origin due to armed conflict, natural disasters, "other extraordinary and temporary conditions."
The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
TPS does not guarantee legal permanent resident status, but allows beneficiaries to legally work in the United States.
To be eligible, Venezuelans would have to be present in the United States at the time the law is enacted. If approved, the TPS beneficiaries could only leave the country with the approval of the Secretary of Homeland Security and, upon return, they should be treated like any other foreigner.
To illustrate the economic crisis in Venezuela the senators cited official 2016 data from the Ministry of Health, specifically a 30% increase in infant mortality and 65% increases in maternal mortality. They also noted that the homicide rate hit 89 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Venezuela's Observatorry of Violence, which collects press reports of violence incidents.
"Venezuela’s economic crisis continues unabated and the International Monetary Fund projects that inflation in Venezuela could reach an annual rate of 1,000,000 percent in 2018," according to the proposed bill. "As evidence of the humanitarian crisis created by Venezuela’s systemic economic turmoil more than 9,000,000 people in Venezuela who are eating 2 or fewer meals a day," it added.
The senators also argued that Venezuela's intelligence agencies and state security forces "have increasingly used arbitrary arrests and detentions to repress and intimidate civil society, political opponents and any voices of dissent." Between 2015 and 2017, they said at least 505 people including 24 children, were executed by Venezuelan security forces, leading the International Criminal Court prosecutor to announce a preliminary investigation into the use of excessive force in Venezuela.