The administration of President Donald Trump, who had been gaining support among some Hispanics for his stand on Venezuela, isn't willing yet to grant temporary protection from deportation to Venezuelans.
The administration did not explicitly reject Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans. But in response to a plea from 23 Democratic senators and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio for the protection for Venezuelans, the administration would only say it continues to monitor the situation in that country.
Democrats, who were informed of the decision in a letter from the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, immediately rebuked Trump.
“President Trump cannot have it both ways. He cannot warn Americans that Venezuela is so dangerous they should avoid traveling there and then turn around and tell Venezuelans in the U.S. they are forced to return,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
The decision means Venezuelans in the United States could be made to return to their home country which is enduring political upheaval, starvation, crime, violence and a mass exodus of residents fleeing the crisis and the government of President Nicolás Maduro.
Some Venezuelans may already be in the country without legal authorization, others may be here on visas that may expire before conditions change.
The administration told the senators there may be other relief available for Venezuelans and pointed them to steps that can be taken when a “special situation” prevents timely departure from the country.
Cuccinelli also suggested that legal challenges to Trump’s authority to end TPS for other immigrants “makes the decision to exercise discretion in the first place considerably more complicated and more akin to a permanent status, rather than temporary.”
Trump has ended TPS for hundreds of thousands of people from several countries, but courts have blocked the termination of TPS for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan through January 2020. TPS holders from Hondurans and Nepal also are challenging termination of their protections.
Immigrants who are granted TPS also can apply for permission to work.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, more than 3.3 million Venezuelans, about 10 percent of the population, have fled the country over the past four years. Most have stayed in Latin America and the Carribbean, with Colombia and Peru taking in most of the migrants.
In March, 24 Democratic senators asked Trump in a letter to designate Venezuela for TPS through executive action. The White House deferred the letter to the DHS.
The decision could have political consequences.
Trump has been courting Venezuelan American voters in Florida and other parts of the country and some have expressed support for him for action he’s taken against Maduro and his government.
Some Venezuelan Americans have felt Democrats haven’t been as strident in their opposition. But Democrats have been countering Republicans with accusations that Trump is willing to return Venezuelans in the U.S. to the country he is condemning.
“This is disgraceful. After months of empty promises and using Venezuelans as political pawns, the Trump administration fails to act to grant TPS," Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said. "Venezuelans are now the largest group of asylum-seekers applying for refuge in the United States. The USCIS decision only reinforces the need for Congress to pass our bipartisan, bicameral Venezuela TPS Act.”
Pili Tobar, deputy director of the immigrant advocacy group America's Voice, said Trump's refusal to designate Venezuela for TPS "will only lead to further distress."
"Once again, the Trump administration's own assessment of Venezuelan security was less important in the end than the president's interest in harming and deporting Latinos," Tobar said.