Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants, including the dozens who were transported to Martha’s Vineyard last year by the order of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, can now shed the fear of sudden deportation from the U.S., thanks to an expansion of Homeland Security’s temporary protected status.
Due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent individuals from safely returning,” the country has been redesignated for temporary protected status (TPS) for an additional 18 months, giving nearly 500,000 Venezuelan nationals residing in the U.S. protection from extradition, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced this week.
Those eligible to apply for the protection, which extends to March 2024, are Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before July 31 of this year.
This adds to the roughly 243,000 TPS beneficiaries under Venezuela’s existing designation, which was approved by the Biden administration in 2021.
The latest temporary protection status extension also provides Venezuelan refugees the opportunity to support themselves financially.
Programs like TPS that allow people to apply immediately for work authorizations are “incredibly important,” Island attorney Rachel Self told The Times this week. “Not just for the applicants themselves, but for our communities and our economy.
“It means that new arrivals can immediately start contributing to their communities, supporting local businesses, paying tax revenue into our systems, moving to any place where they find opportunity, and earning their own way. They do not have to rely on charity, donations, or public services.”
“We are thrilled that many of the migrants who were transported to Martha’s Vineyard last September now have this path available to them, in addition to their other applications for relief,” Self said.
The influx of migrants from Venezuela stems from the nation’s current humanitarian crisis, which can be traced back through the country’s complicated political and socioeconomic history. With political tensions continuously rising and a Venezuelan currency in free fall, millions of people are leaving the country in search of a safer, more stable place to live.
According to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), one of the world’s leading organizations devoted to helping those impacted by humanitarian crises, with increasing violence due to scarce resources, and lack of access to essential healthcare, those leaving Venezuela are migrating for their survival.
According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, more than 7 million people have fled Venezuela since the death of President Hugo Chavez in 2013, and the subsequent election of his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Upon his 2018 re-election — after which his presidency was disputed — Maduro was widely criticized by many Venezuelans, along with countries around the world, for his strict socialist policies and their impact on the country’s economy.
Political volatility greatly increased following Maduro’s re-election, triggering opposition leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself the president of Venezuela, in turn splitting the country’s people — and the world’s nations — into two camps.
As reported by BBC, the fight for power between Maduro and Guaidó, and loyal supporters on both sides, has created a rift all the way to the world’s stage. More than 50 countries, including the U.S., recognized Guaidó as the president of Venezuela; countries like Russia, China, and Turkey acknowledged Maduro’s claim.
The presidential dispute remained unresolved until January of this year, though the impacts it had on Venezuela’s economy and ongoing humanitarian crisis continue.
With roughly 7.3 million people having fled Venezuela since 2014 — roughly 20 percent of the country’s population — it is the largest exodus in Latin America’s recent history. It’s also considered one of the largest displacement crises in the world as of February of this year, says the U.N. Refugee Agency.
Per the Homeland Security Secretary’s Sept. 20 announcement, after review of conditions in Venezuela and consulting with interagency partners, it was determined that an “18-month TPS extension and redesignation are warranted based on Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions.”
Still, some lawmakers and advocates highlight that more needs to be done on a federal level. With the U.S.’s immigration system continuously backlogged, there’s “still work to do,” said attorney Self.
“It is extremely encouraging that the Biden administration is taking steps to ensure that people who are going to be here in our country for an extended period of time, progressing through often lengthy and byzantine legal processes, have the ability to support themselves,” Self said. “They are here legally, pursuing relief enshrined in our laws.
“Ensuring that migrants are able to work as soon as possible after arrival is incredibly important. It means that they are able to become productive members of our communities, which is best for everyone, and one of the foundational parts of the American dream.”
In a statement this week, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey echoed that sentiment, advocating for the expediting of work permits, and urging the Biden administration to provide additional federal funding to help with the influx of migrants to the commonwealth.
The Federal Register is expected to release more information on the TPS program in the near future.