Latin America Advisor Q&A on TPS, Gaps in the U.S. Response to Venezuela’s Displacement Crisis

On February 8, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin America Advisor published a Q&A on the U.S. government response to Venezuela’s displacement crisis, and whether Venezuelans should be afforded Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In my response, I argue that they clearly should, but the U.S. government has been silent in talking about Venezuelans’ need for access to legal status not just in the United States, but in every other country they are fleeing to as well. The question and my response are below. You can also read responses from Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Marc Becker, and Soeurette Michel here.

Question: Bipartisan bills introduced recently in both chambers of the U.S. Congress seek to grant temporary protected status, or TPS, to Venezuelan migrants, a move that would allow Venezuelans to legally remain and work in United States for 18 months. TPS is granted by the Department of Homeland Security to citizens of countries that are experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. How big of a priority is this bill for lawmakers? How likely is it that Venezuelans will be granted TPS in the near future, and which factors could influence that decision? How, if at all, could the measure affect Venezuelan migration trends?

Answer: “The response to Venezuelan refugees and migrants has been overshadowed by this administration’s deep xenophobia. It’s true that the United States has played an important funding role in the regional response, earmarking $93 million in funds in the 2018 fiscal year for the response to fleeing Venezuelans. But it has been woefully silent on Venezuelans’ need for access to legal status in the countries they are fleeing to, which includes the United States.

Instead, the administration has placed the lowest ceiling on refugee admissions since 1980 and denied formal status to immigrants. So far Venezuelans have been no exception to the White House’s backward migration and refugee policies. In response to an increase in asylum claims by Venezuelans who have entered the country legally in recent years, the U.S. government has responded harshly. The United States has slashed the number of tourist B-visas issued to Venezuelans from 240,000 in 2015 to less than 57,000 in 2017.

It’s also clear that any discussion of TPS for Venezuelans who are fleeing an economic collapse and political crisis cannot be held in isolation. When pressed about the contradictions in this administration’s approach, Vice President Mike Pence argued there is ‘a clear distinction’ between Central Americans and Haitians and ‘the people who are literally fleeing from Venezuela to survive.’ Personally, I see more similarities than differences. Dysfunctional institutions, economic collapse, and deep insecurity all cause people to flee and prevent them from returning, no matter where they flee from.”