Democratic senators introduced legislation to grant Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to Venezuelans in the U.S., saying the actions former President Donald Trump took on his last day in office to shield Venezuelans from deportation fall short.
"After four years of empty promises and deceit, nobody believes Donald Trump had an epiphany on his last day in office and decided to protect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans he was forcing into the shadows," the office of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in a statement.
Trump's executive order deferred for 18 months the removal of Venezuelans who were at risk of being sent back to their home country.
"TPS is based in statute and is a legal immigration status, as opposed to Deferred Enforced Departure," Menendez said. "That is why we are relaunching our campaign to actually stand with those fleeing the misery caused by the Maduro regime."
Both TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, allow recipients to legally live and work in the United States, but experts say the former is a better option. "DED prevents migrants from deportation for 18 months and allows them to work," Miami immigration lawyer Laura Jimenez said. "TPS is an immigration status that can lead to a green card under President Joe Biden's immigration proposal."
Menendez introduced the bill along with Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., to revitalize the effort to grant TPS to Venezuelans, which has failed in previous years.
Democratic Reps. Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, all from Florida, presented similar bipartisan TPS legislation in the House on Jan. 5.
Senate Republicans blocked a TPS bill in 2019 after it had passed in the House.
Biden said during the presidential campaign that he would extend TPS protections for Venezuelans. TPS can be granted by Congress or through a presidential executive order.
In a statement, the White House said: "Throughout the campaign President Biden committed to extending TPS to Venezuelans seeking relief from the humanitarian crisis brought on by the Maduro regime — including if that action happened legislatively.
"Simultaneously, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security continue to be part of the process in reviewing TPS designations and assessing situations and conditions in impacted countries to make updated determinations," the statement said.
TPS would allow an estimated 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States to live and work legally.
Other migrants who have been granted TPS, usually reserved for those fleeing armed conflict and natural disasters, include Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and Haitians after the 2010 earthquake.
Millions of Venezuelans have fled in recent years amid a crumbling economy and a humanitarian crisis under socialist leader Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
"With Democrats retaking the presidency and the majority in Congress, I am convinced we will no longer be stymied in our efforts to enact an immigration system that reflects our nation's values," Menendez's statement said.