Soto introduces bill to help those fleeing crisis in Venezuela

As conditions deteriorate in Venezuela and its people continue fleeing to the U.S. seeking political asylum, two U.S. congressmen from Florida are working to pass a bipartisan immigration bill to help those fleeing the Maduro government.

U.S. Representatives Darren Soto, a Democrat from Central Florida, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from South Florida, on Friday introduced the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 (H.R. 549). If passed by Congress, the legislation would allow Venezuelan nationals to become eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States.

“The U.S. has already refused to recognize the government of Venezuela and it’s because we know there are human rights abuses. There are people whose lives have been taken, others whose businesses have been taken and those whose family members have gone missing. There’s no freedom of the press,” Soto said Friday at a press conference at the Orlando Public Library.

By Monday, the U.S. and Venezuela officially broke ties amid large protests in Caracas against the nation’s president Nicolás Maduro, who ordered U.S. diplomats out of the country.

President Donald Trump countered by officially backing Venezuela’s opposition party leader, Juan Guaidó as interim president. A number of South American countries, including Brazil, Colombia and Peru, also have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

Roughly 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country, according to the United Nations. Approximately one million asylum seekers have come to the U.S. since 2014, with some 233,000 now in Florida.  

Most Venezuelans in the U.S. now have come mostly through the political asylum process and other legal federal immigration channels.

Soto’s bill, however, would grant automatic Temporary Protected Status, better known as TPS, to Venezuelans.

TPS is a U.S. immigration program that assists nationals from countries affected by armed conflict or natural disaster and allows them to live and work in the U.S. for a limited time. TPS can be renewed every two years.

But the proposed legislation comes as the Trump Administration is pursuing the termination of TPS for people from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Sudan currently residing in the U.S. The plan has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in California.

“We know this a difficult time for bills dealing with TPS. But we think that this one for Venezuela is  going to be the one to pass, considering the bipartisan support in both chambers of the U.S. Congress and the worsening conditions in Venezuela,” Soto said.

It would “strengthen sanctions against Venezuela and protect the innocents fleeing” the violence and desperate economic situation there, Soto said.

TPS is granted automatically for most people from countries approved by the U.S. and allows them greater freedoms to work and travel than does political asylum status.

The growing Venezuelan diaspora in Florida is concentrated in Miami. Still, Soto said some 33,000 Venezuelans are in Central Florida. The Sunshine State is a “gateway” for many immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean because of its proximity.

Venezuelan political and social organizations that have grown in numbers and in momentum in the U.S. in recent years claim that many Venezuelans are grateful to have found asylum in other countries but that many hope to return to their home when the country is stable again.

“This affects everybody in Florida, not only the Hispanic community. These folks who are here and already part of the economy and our community. We just need to recognize them,” Soto said.