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Venezuelan Americans pressure GOP to back permanent residency

A poll found that almost half of Venezuelan Americans in Florida say they won't support Republicans Rubio and Scott if they don't back permanent legal status for them.
Image: Venezuelans gather to celebrate the granting of temporary protected status by President Biden in Miami on March 9, 2021.
Venezuelans gather to celebrate the granting of temporary protected status by President Biden in Miami on March 9, 2021.Eva Marie Uzcategui / AFP via Getty Images file

MIAMI — A poll of Venezuelan Americans in Florida, a group with growing political influence that helped former President Donald Trump carry the state, shows there is potential for them to warm up to Democrats in the future.

Almost half of all Venezuelans polled (49 percent) said they would no longer support the state's two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Republicans, if they oppose granting permanent legal status to Venezuelan Americans who currently have temporary protected status, or TPS.

Among those polled who were registered voters, around 31 percent said they would not support Rubio and Scott if they oppose permanent legal status, and 26 percent said they would, with 19 percent saying they did not know. Only 4.3 percent of those not registered to vote said they would support them.

The poll was commissioned by the Venezuelan American Alliance, the Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund and the Florida chapter of the American Business Immigration Coalition, all bipartisan groups that have been pushing for TPS holders to be granted permanent legal status and have been taking aim at Rubio and Scott to back specific bills to make it happen.

“Including immigration is so relevant for an economic recovery and for the growth of the country,” said Maria Antonieta Díaz, founder of the Venezuelan American Alliance. She said the poll proves that support among Venezuelans for Scott and Rubio will dwindle if they don’t support permanent legal status for TPS holders.

“Immigration is a topic that unites us despite any partisan sympathy,” said Díaz. “We are all impacted by the topic of immigration.”

“It shows that those who are registered to vote are the ones who have already solved their immigration problem,” said Eduardo Gamarra, the founder of Integrated Communications & Research, which conducted the poll, and a professor of political science at Florida International University. “It looks like those who are not registered to vote lean Democratic.”

He said that while newer arrivals seemed persuaded by the Trump administration’s insinuations that a military invasion of Venezuela was imminent, “today they’re frustrated.”

Despite their frustration that Trump administration policies did not ultimately help oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the poll found that only 39 percent of Venezuelan Americans approve of the job President Joe Biden is doing.

Yet half of them said that Biden's extension of TPS to Venezuelans in March and the promise of a pathway to permanent status increased their support for him. The poll was conducted at the beginning of September, after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan when Biden’s overall approval rating in the country slid to a low of 43 percent.

Gamarra said when he began polling Venezuelans in 2016, they were Democrats. They shifted toward Republicans during the Trump years “and now they seem to be a little disconcerted.”

Scott, and especially Rubio, are considered strong allies of Venezuelans in the U.S. and are constantly railing against Maduro, who has led the South American country into a deep economic crisis. Over 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country.

But at this point, Venezuelan Americans from both parties, including the groups that commissioned the poll, want to see robust action from Democrats and Republicans to legalize their status in the country.

TPS is only a temporary benefit, renewable every 18 months and granting protection from deportation and permission to work.

Over 300,000 Venezuelans are estimated to qualify for TPS, and many live in Florida, where the largest number of Venezuelans in the U.S. live. Aside from Venezuelans, there are over 400,000 people with TPS in the U.S. from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Out of the 506 Venezuelans polled, 66 percent were registered to vote and 31 percent were not. It was conducted digitally and the margin of error is 3.6 percentage points.

The groups who commissioned the poll are among many that are advocating for immigration provisions to be included in the budget reconciliation, a process that requires a simple majority and could pass with just Democratic support. Including permanent residency for TPS holders and other immigrants could allow Democrats to avoid making concessions to Republicans who are divided on immigration policy.

The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, heard arguments from both Democrats and Republicans on Friday about whether immigration legislation should be included in the proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. She has not indicated when she will issue a ruling.

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