“Simply by re-designating Temporary Protected Status to include recent arrivals from Venezuela, thousands of asylum seekers would have their legal posture drastically altered, for the better. The Department of Homeland Security has the sole authority to make this change. It could happen with the flick of a pen.”
Over the last several months, thousands of mostly-Venezuelan asylum-seekers have arrived at the southern U.S. border seeking safety from political turmoil and inhumane living conditions.
Although Venezuela is currently the source of the second largest external displacement crisis in the world, these migrants have received little of the widespread outpouring of support offered to Ukrainians also fleeing dire, dangerous conditions. Instead, thousands of Venezuelans have been plunged into a political stunt: put on buses by the current governor of Texas and transported from Texas to New York City.
For these immigrants, New York City is the most recent stop on a long and dangerous escape from extreme poverty and persecution. One woman, recently arrived, told us that she and her daughters had endured a journey marked by sexual assault and starvation to escape Venezuela. She was desperate to start a new, safer life in New York.
In response to the very real humanitarian crisis driving the mass displacement of Venezuelans from their home country, the Biden Administration has chosen to utilize the tool of enforcement alone, funneling these asylum seekers into deportation proceedings and onerous surveillance programs.
The chaotic and inhumane result of this policy choice has been well documented. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the immigration court system, already at a saturation point, have buckled under the sheer number of people they are being suddenly asked to monitor and schedule for appointments and hearings. In New York City alone, lines to “check in” with the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Office—in charge of the surveillance and monitoring of migrants who have been paroled across the border with the anticipation of a removal process—start in the early hours of the morning and stretch around the block daily.
Moreover, because many of the Venezuelan asylum-seekers being bused to New York lack existing familial and community ties in the United States, ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have employed a variety of deceitful and legally prejudicial policies, such as fabricating addresses on their charging documents, sending their cases to far-flung jurisdictions, and supplying nonsensical or contradictory information and instructions.
For newly-arrived Venezuelan nationals, the Administration’s choice to prioritize enforcement alone means that many are left with nothing–no status or ability to work legally–waiting to enter a broken deportation machine unable to provide proper notice or other basic due process protections.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an easy and immediate solution to this situation: DHS could re-designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a temporary immigration status that is extended to nationals of countries that are experiencing conditions that make it difficult or unsafe for their nationals to return. TPS allows people to remain in the U.S. and work for 18 months, and can be renewed if the conditions do not improve.
For a country’s nationals to receive this status, DHS has to “designate” the country for TPS, acknowledging the conditions that warrant it and setting the dates by which a national of that country has had to be present in the United States to qualify. Most recently, Afghanistan and Ukraine were designated for TPS after large numbers of people sought safety in the U.S. following humanitarian crises in the countries, allowing those already here to receive temporary status and the ability to work.
Acknowledging the current humanitarian crises in Venezuela, DHS has designated the country for TPS, but only for those individuals present in the United States as of March 2021. This current designation does not allow those who have most recently arrived—such as the mother who endured assault and starvation on her way to the U.S.—to qualify. Simply by re-designating TPS to include recent arrivals from Venezuela, thousands of asylum seekers would have their legal posture drastically altered, for the better. DHS has the sole authority to make this change. It could happen with the flick of a pen.
With policies such as this, that lead with humanity instead of enforcement, thousands of Venezuelan nationals who cannot return home could work and remain legally in the United States while finding temporary safety within our borders.
Melissa Chua is an immigration attorney overseeing the Immigrant Protection Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, where she co-directs the organization’s response to the urgent legal needs facing immigrant communities in the city—including individuals, families, and children from South America, Afghanistan, and Ukraine—through defense in detained and non-detained removal proceedings, representation for asylum cases, help in securing citizenship, working to protect for survivors of intimate partner violence and human trafficking, and more.