COVID-19 pandemic adds urgency to need for Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans

SILVER SPRING, Maryland — A year after the administration said it would “monitor” whether conditions warrant designating TPS to protect Venezuelans in the United States, the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic make the need for TPS even more pressing. More than 215 organizations asked in 2019 for TPS to safeguard Venezuelans from the humanitarian crisis there, providing work authorization and protection from deportation.

“By continuing to merely ‘monitor’ the situation in Venezuela, the administration is abdicating its responsibility to protect vulnerable Venezuelans in the United States from having to return to dangerous conditions,” said Anna Gallagher, CLINIC’s Executive Director. “Food, medicine and electricity have become rare commodities there, making it an unsafe environment for anyone. The Department of Homeland Security must use TPS as Congress intended — to protect people affected by exactly this kind of upheaval. Lives hang in the balance.”

Since DHS’ response, more than 1 million people have fled Venezuela. Even before the pandemic, the Venezuelan refugee crisis in 2020 was on pace to outsize the exodus from Syria. As described in CLINIC’s newly updated report, Congress intended TPS to protect people when they may not qualify for other humanitarian immigration protections, such as asylum or refugee resettlement. Rates of approval for Venezuelans who apply for asylum are low, about 15 percent.

Another problem worsened by the pandemic is Venezuelans held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with no path to release as deportations to Venezuela have been suspended. “We know at least hundreds of Venezuelans are trapped in ICE detention in the United States as COVID-19 spreads. TPS would have prevented this,” said Jill Marie Bussey, CLINIC’s Director of Advocacy. “Had TPS been designated last spring, at least 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States would have had access to work legally and be better able to provide for their families right now.”

Venezuela is home to the largest humanitarian disaster in the Western Hemisphere, with severe shortages of food, medicine and medical supplies. There is no functioning health care system, especially crucial amid the COVID pandemic.

”TPS is a life-saving protection proven to safeguard people from harm when the rest of our immigration system does not,” Bussey said. “While we undoubtedly need permanent protections for Venezuelans, we need TPS now to protect this vulnerable population. Either Congress or the administration can get this done.”