The Biden administration on Monday announced it will offer deportation relief and work permits to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan immigrants living in the U.S., citing the political and economic turmoil in the South American country.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas issued a decree making certain Venezuelans eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which allows the U.S. government to grant provisional humanitarian protection to immigrants whose home countries are plagued by armed conflict, recovering from natural disasters, dealing with an epidemic or otherwise unable to guarantee the safe return of their citizens.
"The designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela, which is one of the statutory bases for it," a senior Biden administration official told reporters on a call Monday. "Because of conditions there, it is not safe for Venezuelans to return."
The TPS designation, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, applies to undocumented Venezuelan immigrants who have been living in the U.S. as of Monday, March 8. Senior officials said an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans would be eligible for the relief, and fees associated with the application process total $545. Applications are due within six months.
Republican and Democratic administrations have sought to isolate the increasingly authoritarian government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has managed to hold on to power despite a political challenge mounted by Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. and other Western countries have recognized as the country's legitimate interim president.
During the presidential campaign, President Biden promised to grant TPS to Venezuelans "seeking relief from the humanitarian crisis brought on by the Maduro regime."
Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who has championed legislation advocating for the TPS designation for Venezuelans, issued a statement thanking the Biden administration on Monday, saying the move sends a "powerful signal to allies and competitors that the United States is once again committed to the cause of democracy."
In recent years, Venezuela has been beset by political instability and an economic crisis that has fueled an exodus of millions of Venezuelans, most of whom have journeyed to neighboring Colombia and other countries in South America. Last month, the Colombian government announced it would offer temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans living in Colombia.
The Trump administration sought to terminate several TPS designations as part of its efforts to curtail immigration and end temporary deportation relief programs, like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.
Hindered by court rulings, the Trump administration was unable to strip the TPS protections of approximately 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. Mr. Biden pledged to review the termination of these programs, which an appeals court allowed last fall.
While the senior administration officials indicated the president is in "no rush" to lift sanctions on the Maduro regime, the Biden White House has distanced itself from the Trump administration's unilateral "maximum pressure" campaign. Biden officials have begun spearheading a diplomatic effort to recruit more countries to advocate for a possible negotiated settlement.
"We're working with the international community to increase pressure in a coordinated fashion and making clear that the only outcome of this crisis is a negotiation that leads to a democratic solution," one official said. "We need to recognize here that unilateral sanctions over the last four years have not succeeded in achieving an electoral outcome in the country."
The White House plans to review the policy decisions made under former President Donald Trump in the coming days and weeks.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are currently about 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela around the world.