Senior officials at the State Department have been seriously weighing whether to push to protect Venezuelans in the U.S. from deportation, according to internal communications The Daily Beast reviewed.
People from several other countries, including Somalia and Yemen, currently have the same Temporary Protected Status status, which also grants migrants short-term work permits. But extending the policy to Venezuelans would be an atypical step for the Trump administration, which has taken steps to end TPS for people from half a dozen other countries. Some Trump administration allies consider the move tantamount to granting “amnesty” to those who have violated immigration laws.
Officials have explored the process in great detail, according to the communications, but there is not consensus in the department on the issue. Elliott Abrams, Trump’s special envoy for Venezuela, has participated in the discussions, as has Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment, citing internal deliberations.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for deciding which countries’ citizens receive protection under the program, but any recommendation from the State Department will have significant weight.
Some Trump administration officials say they fear TPS would result in more immigration to the U.S. from Venezuela, weakening opposition to Nicolas Maduro’s government by providing some of its fiercest challengers with an incentive to leave the country. One official involved in the interagency discussions called it “the Maduro protection plan.” Meanwhile, some Congressional Republicans have argued forcefully for the policy. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, backs legislation to provide TPS to Venezuelans, even though the administration can do so without any congressional support.
“As Venezuelans continue to face serious threats to their safety and livelihood at the hands of Maduro’s narcoterrorist tyranny, it is clear in-country conditions warrant granting temporary protected status to Venezuelan nationals residing in the U.S.,” he said last December. “Granting this protection will provide a temporary solution to many Venezuelans who fear returning to their homeland due to the ongoing crisis and extraordinarily difficult conditions.”
Immigration hawks have criticized the option. Mark Krikorian, who advocates for tougher immigration enforcement and heads the Center for Immigration Studies, told The Daily Beast that TPS meets the definition of “amnesty.” He noted that TPS protections for residents of some countries have been repeatedly extended, providing temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of people for years.
“The problem comes with work authorization,” he said. “You are legalizing them at that point. They get bank accounts, they get mortgages, etc. If you’re going to do that, then legislate an amnesty. It’s a cop out. It’s basically a way to lie to the public about something that is actually a permanent amnesty by pretending that it’s only temporary.”
That view will find pushback. Amy Maldonado, a Houston immigration attorney with many Venezuelan clients (including a number of Major League Baseball players) told The Daily Beast that if TPS is available, people are less likely to seek asylum in the United States—a process that results in their receiving legal permanent residence.
“A lot of Venezuelans don’t want to live here permanently,” she said. “They want things to settle down in their country so they can go home. This would give them a way to stay here and protect their families until they can go home.”
Last year, the Trump administration moved to eliminate TPS for people from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Sudan. People from those countries then sued, and a federal judge in California blocked DHS from ending TPS. DHS has appealed the ruling.
And earlier this year, DHS also moved to end TPS for people from Honduras and Nepal. On Feb. 11, immigrants from those countries also sued to block the move. They argue the administration is ending their legal protections out of hostility to people of color.
“We bring evidence the Trump administration has repeatedly denigrated non-white non-European immigrants and reviewed TPS designations with a goal of removing such non-white non-European immigrants from the United States,” Minju Cho, an attorney working on the litigation with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told NBC News.
Providing TPS protection to Venezuelans in the U.S. would depart from the administration’s pattern of rolling back policies that block deportations—a change that would frustrate immigration hawks and cheer people who advocate for more welcoming immigration policies.