MIAMI — More than two dozen advocacy groups are calling on Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Florida Republicans, to co-sponsor a bill that would put qualified Venezuelan Americans on the road to citizenship.
The bill would allow temporary protected status (TPS) recipients to apply for legal permanent residency.
The Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency Act, known as the Secure Act, was introduced in March by Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland; Dianne Feinstein of California; and Tim Kaine of Virginia.
Kathy Bird Carvajal, executive director of the IMPAC Fund, a nonpartisan group that aims to change policy through bipartisanship, says it makes most sense for Rubio and Scott to co-sponsor the bill because there are so many Venezuelans and other TPS holders in the state that can benefit from the bill if it became law.
The Biden administration announced in March that it would extend TPS to Venezuelans for 18 months. TPS is a temporary renewable benefit that grants protection from deportation and permission to work to people who are unable to return to their countries because of natural disasters, armed conflicts and other conditions.
Over 300,000 Venezuelans are estimated to qualify for TPS, and the majority live in Florida.
Apart 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.
The IMPAC Fund, which is the Florida chapter of the American Business Immigration Coalition, was one of 27 groups, including several Venezuelan organizations, who signed a letter sent to Rubio and Scott this week asking them to co-sponsor the bill.
Carvajal said the group is also calling on them to co-sponsor because of “their track records on Venezuela."
"They've worked so hard to stand up for Venezuelans," she said, "not just here in our state or in our country, but also in Venezuela, promoting democracy there.”
Former President Donald Trump, who made Venezuela central to his Latin America policy, authorized deferred enforcement departure (DED) for Venezuelans on his last full day of office. It also protected them from deportation for 18 months and provided them the opportunity to apply for work permits, but did not give them an immigration status like TPS.
For years, Venezuelans have been fleeing political and economic turmoil in their home country including shortages of food and medicine as well as soaring inflation. Over 5 million refugees and migrants have fled the country.
Rubio is considered by Venezuelans a strong ally in their quest to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office.
In emails, neither U.S. senator directly answered whether they would support the Secure Act to put TPS holders on the road to legalization.
“I’ve long supported and called for TPS and DED for eligible Venezuelan nationals fleeing the Maduro narco-regime," Rubio said. "The priority of our policy towards Venezuela must be centered around the restoration of democracy and the end of an evil regime.”
A spokesperson for his office stated that Scott was glad that the Biden administration last month granted TPS to Venezuelans fleeing the Maduro regime, "especially after Senate Democrats blocked Senator Scott’s multiple attempts to get TPS done for Venezuelans.”
“Florida is an immigration state and Senator Scott has been clear that he supports legal immigration and a permanent solution for DACA," the spokesperson stated. "Immigration reform becomes much more simple once the border is secure and that’s where the conversation must begin. President Biden and the Democrats caused this border crisis with their radical open borders and amnesty policies — which hurts hardworking Americans and the millions of immigrants going through the legal process.”
Karen Garcia, 42, came from Venezuela in 2001 and volunteers for multiple Venezuelan organizations in Central Florida to help those who have recently arrived in the U.S.
She said that Rubio and Scott “have been a voice for the Venezuelan community especially during critical situations in the country.”
But she says that while the senators have focused on U.S. policy toward Venezuela, they have catered less toward the Venezuelan community in the state. “It’s imperative they do something for the Venezuelan community here,” she said.