On January 25, 2021, a group of U.S. Senators led by incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a bill to designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which would grant temporary legal status to Venezuelans fleeing a devastating political and humanitarian crisis in their home country. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) supports this measure, and welcomes the bill’s language on the need for all destination countries to ensure that fleeing Venezuelans receive due process and access to legal protections and essential services.
Following a last-minute memorandum issued by the Trump administration enacting Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Venezuelans on January 19, the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2021 would extend regular status and the opportunity to apply for work authorization to an estimated 200,000 Venezuelan nationals living in the United States. Unlike DED, TPS is based in legal statute and has proven to be more durable across administrations.
This Senate legislation is the third of its kind; after the House of Representatives passed a similar TPS bill in July 2019 with a bipartisan majority, the Senate version of the bill was repeatedly blocked in 2019 and 2020. Over the last two years, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) has joined other prominent human rights organizations in calling on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to designate Venezuela for TPS to protect eligible individuals from deportation back to a country in crisis. While these demands were not met by the Trump administration, the 2021 TPS Act has a greater chance of passing in a Senate with a Democratic majority. Additionally, President Joe Biden has publicly vowed to coordinate with DHS and Congress to designate Venezuela for TPS, raising hope that the measure may be granted in the coming months.
The new Senate legislation includes crucial language urging the Departments of State and Homeland Security to coordinate with international partners including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support the regional response to Venezuelan migrants and refugees. The bill earmarks $10 million to support regional countries’ domestic capacities to process asylum cases and provide essential services to Venezuelan migrants. WOLA, which has joined regional civil society voices in emphasizing the need for countries across the Americas to provide access to regular status to those fleeing Venezuela, commends these efforts. It is essential to bolster the region’s capacity to support the more than 5.4 million Venezuelans migrants and refugees seeking protection, the vast majority of whom lack regular status in their host countries.