The Trump administration is considering a plan to let up to 200,000 Venezuelan migrants who fled to the U.S. to escape the depressed economy and political chaos under President Nicolás Maduro to stay here under a special immigration program.
It’s not a humanitarian gesture, but more of a political calculation to win over voters in South Florida’s large Venezuelan-American community before the 2020 presidential election, according to POLITICO, which first reported the administration’s plan, citing two people familiar with the discussions.
POLITICO reports the administration is weighing different options to allow Venezuelans already here to keep living and working in the U.S., including one that would allow them to qualify for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.
Created in 1990, TPS is a longstanding humanitarian program benefiting hundreds of thousands of migrants from countries battered by war or natural disasters. It’s well intentioned but has its flaws because many TPS holders remain in immigration limbo for years.
There’s nothing wrong with the administration wanting to offer TPS to Venezuelans. The corrupt Maduro regime has mismanaged its oil-rich economy and triggered terrible shortages in food and medicine. By any measure, it’s a humanitarian crisis. UN officials estimate that more than 4 million people have left the country, with thousands making their way to South Florida. Think Doral in Miami-Dade and Weston in southwest Broward.
But it’s wrong for the administration to favor one group of migrants over others who face similar hardships if forced to return to their troubled homelands. Think Haitians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans, to name a few. They also call South Florida home.
It’s also mean-spirited and unfair on the part of the Trump administration to open one immigration door to Venezuelans, while trying to slam another shut for the hundreds of thousands of other equally deserving migrants who have already qualified for TPS.
The fate of TPS holders is in the hands of Trump administration officials. Under the law, the Homeland Security Department secretary decides whether to extend or end TPS. About 417,000 migrants from 10 countries currently have TPS, including more than 57,000 in Florida.
Two years ago this month, administration officials began announcing plans to terminate TPS for more than 408,000 migrants from six countries — El Salvador (251,526), Haiti (56,209), Honduras (80,633), Nepal 14,596), Nicaragua (4,517), and Sudan (806) — even though conditions in those countries have shown little improvement or worsened over the years. The deportation of these lawful immigrants would leave more than 279,000 U.S-born children with an uncertain future.
Fortunately, several immigrant advocacy groups have gone to federal court to challenge the administration’s TPS termination plans and have put the deportations — at least for the moment — on hold.
The sudden interest in granting TPS to Venezuelans is an about-face for the Trump administration. In late July, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli told two top Democratic senators — Dick Durbin of Illinois and New Jersey’s Bob Menendez — that the administration would not designate Venezuela for TPS.
That was typical Trump hypocrisy. Administration officials have been warning Americans not to travel to Venezuela because it’s so dangerous, but at the same time telling desperate Venezuelans they could not stay here.
POLITICO reported that the administration was only eyeing TPS for Venezuelan migrants, noting that top White House advisor Stephen Miller, the mean-spirited architect of the president’s harsh immigration policies, is even on board with the idea.
The politics at play here are no surprise. Florida’s 29 electoral votes are crucial for any candidate wanting to capture the White House. Presidential elections here typically come down to razor-thin margins for the winner, so any advantage gained with any one group of voters can tilt the outcome. In 2016, Trump won Florida by beating Democrat Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percentage points, or less than 113,000 votes out of some 9.4 million ballots cast.
The Trump administration needs to do right by Venezuelans and make them eligible for TPS. It also needs to do right by the many Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and other migrants who should have their current TPS eligibility extended and eventually be allowed to remain here permanently. It’s only fair.