Menendez to renew push for protecting Venezuelans from deportation

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Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) on Monday will launch another effort to offer Venezuelan exiles protection from deportation through Temporary Protected Status — a move that the Biden administration supports and former President Donald Trump fell short of doing.

Menendez will introduce a bill that would allow Venezuelans fleeing the humanitarian crisis brought on by Nicolás Maduro’s government to live and work legally in the U.S. through TPS. It comes less than a week after Trump, on his last full day in office, used executive power to shield Venezuelans from deportation through the Deferred Enforced Departure program, or DED.

“After four years of empty promises and deceit, nobody believes Donald Trump had an epiphany on his last day in office and decided to protect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans he was forcing into the shadows,” Menendez said.

“TPS is based in statute and is a legal immigration status, as opposed to Deferred Enforced Departure. That is why we are relaunching our campaign to actually stand with those fleeing the misery caused by the Maduro regime,” he said of the bill, shared first with POLITICO.

Democrats have been quick to point out that Trump’s last-minute move to offer DED does not replace the need to grant TPS for Venezuelans. While both the deferred-departure program and TPS allow recipients to live and work in the U.S. legally, immigration experts say a protected-status designation is written in statute and has a certain legal framework behind it. DED is not an immigration status and is granted at the discretion of the president.

Menendez, Democrats and Florida Republicans for years have pushed for granting TPS for Venezuelans, but efforts to convince Trump or pass it in legislation have failed. In 2019, the Democratic-led House passed a bipartisan bill to grant TPS to Venezuelans. But the legislation was held up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Now, Menendez is feeling confident Congress can get it done with Democrats in the majority and the Biden administration being supportive of the effort. President Joe Biden, while he was campaigning, repeatedly said he would extend TPS to Venezuelans.

Extending the status to Venezuelans would protect about 200,000 Venezuelan citizens in the U.S. from deportation, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

TPS is used to protect immigrants who come from countries devastated by natural disasters or armed conflict. It’s the same temporary legal status the Trump administration announced it would phase out in 2018 for more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras, Sudan and Nepal over the next few years. Under Biden’s immigration plan, TPS recipients would be eligible for automatic green cards.

The bill — being co-sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — marks another effort from top Democrats to put immigration as a central issue now that Biden is in office. Menendez is also leading the Senate effort to pass Biden’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and tackle root causes of migration from Central America.

Menendez last week said his office planned to introduce the sweeping bill in the next three weeks with the goal of passing it this year to avoid having it fall into 2022 election year challenges.

But despite being in the majority, Democrats will face an uphill battle in getting a big immigration package passed. Menendez has already acknowledged that any large-scale bill will require negotiations with Republicans to get at least 10 GOP members to pass it in the Senate.

In the meantime, some Democrats and immigrant advocates are pushing for smaller bills to move quickly that would offer legal status for the country’s undocumented immigrants. One push is for undocumented essential workers to be offered legal status via reconciliation.

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