Is TPS Coming for Venezuelan Asylum Seekers?

A bill to activate Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans is moving quickly through the U.S. Congress, but how does this affect Venezuelans in the U.S., including those currently seeking asylum?

Venezuelans are one step closer to being eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the U.S. On Wednesday, May 22nd, the United States House Judiciary Committee, part of the U.S. House of Representatives, approved a bill that would permit Venezuelans to qualify for TPS, preventing their removal from the U.S. and allowing them to obtain employment and travel authorization.

Democratic Representative Darren Soto, from Florida’s 9th district, and Republican Mario Díaz-Balart, from Florida’s 25th district, introduced the bill in the committee in January 2019. Now it’ll go to a full vote in the House and wait for its counterpart in the Senate (introduced by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, from New Jersey and co-sponsored, among others, by Republican Senator Marco Rubio) to be passed and signed by President Trump, so the bill can become law.

Once this happens, Venezuelans residing in the United States will be automatically qualified to stay in the U.S., under the protection of TPS, as long as they meet the eligibility requirements stated in the law.

TPS has historically been activated only by executive order of the president in the wake of natural disasters, or war in other countries.

Oriana Piña, Communications Director for Rep. Soto, explained that TPS has historically been activated only by executive order of the president in the wake of natural disasters, or war in other countries. But given that President Trump had not taken the initiative to grant the status to Venezuelans, the congressmen introduced the bipartisan bill to protect them as soon as possible. This doesn’t mean that the bill goes against Trump’s plans with Venezuela, but that while his administration is focused on getting Maduro out of power, Congress has decided to help Venezuelans already in the U.S.

The TPS would give undocumented Venezuelans (those who have overstayed their visas or had asylum cases denied) the automatic protection from deportation, and the opportunity to apply for a work permit and travel authorization.

But what does this bill mean for those who are currently seeking asylum?

For those who can neither stay nor go back

Betilde Muñoz-Pogossian recently explained to us that most of our migrant population includes asylum seekers who endure long, uncertain immigration processes while struggling to build their lives in the U.S.

Delays in how the government processes asylum applications makes them unable to formally establish themselves in the United States and, once they apply for asylum, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) protects them from deportation. They then can apply to receive a work permit and Social Security Number, allowing them to work, study and live in the U.S., but until the DHS conducts an interview and takes a final decision, they remain unqualified to stay in the country permanently.

These Venezuelans can remain in limbo for more than four years, unable to return to Venezuela and living in uncertainty. This is the case of Alfredo Oballos Diaz, an international relations student from Florida International University, who interned at Rep. Soto’s office during the Spring of 2019, coming to understand the impact of the bill on asylum seekers like himself.           

The only requirements to be protected under TPS is to be Venezuelan and to have arrived before the TPS is designated. That is, the bill would only protect current immigrants.

“Those who have applied for asylum, and have not received an interview, are classified as an affirmative asylum seeker,” said Oballos Diaz. “But as an asylum seeker, you need to choose which process to take.”

Delays in how the government processes asylum applications makes them unable to formally establish themselves in the United States.

According to Oballos Diaz, affirmative seekers can continue waiting because the benefits of the TPS—work permit and protection from deportation—would be the same. But the TPS would allow defensive asylum seekers, whose cases are denied and are waiting for “a second review,” to remain legally instead of taking their cases to court.

One of the differences between one status and the other is that TPS lasts as long as the U.S. government considers the country of origin dangerous. In the case of Haiti, for example, TPS has been active since the earthquake of 2010, but is scheduled to expire in 2020, according to the Pew Research Center. On the other hand, asylum can lead to permanent residency and citizenship once approved.

TPS also allows immigrants to travel out of the U.S., while asylees must wait at least a year after their status is approved before they can travel. Both statuses, however, prevent a person from traveling back to their country of origin.

Why trying to designate a TPS now, if the Trump administration continues to support Guaidó and calls for Maduro to leave power soon? Both Piña and Oballos Diaz agree: it’s not about Maduro being in power or not, it’s about Venezuela’s political instability and humanitarian crisis.

Even if the cese de la usurpación (end of usurpation) happens tomorrow, Venezuelan immigrants won’t be able to go back soon. There’s still an economic and social crisis that would make it too dangerous for them to return, so, while TPS does not directly affect Venezuelans awaiting asylum, it would provide our fellow countrymen with the documents to remain temporarily yet safely in the U.S.