Biden grants Temporary Protected Status to as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the US

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A man from Venezuela seeking asylum in the United States holds his daughter at the entrance to the Paso del Norte International Bridge after the news that the Migrant Protection Protocols program was halted on February 28, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez.

  • The Biden administration is granting Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans.
  • Venezuelans are the leading group of asylum-seekers. About 320,000 are eligible for TPS.
  • TPS protects recipients from the threat of deportation.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Venezuelans who have fled economic devastation and political repression will no longer have to fear deportation from the United States, the Biden administration announced Monday, fulfilling one of the president’s campaign promises.

An estimated 320,000 Venezuelans in the US are now eligible for Temporary Protected Status, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. TPS is granted to nationals from countries where it would be unsafe to return.

Venezuela has been in an economic and political freefall since the collapse of oil prices in 2014, exacerbated by rank corruption and, since 2019, US sanctions on the country’s all-important petroleum sector. That has led to an exodus from the country – 5.4 million people, according to the United Nations, or nearly 20% of its population – with the vast majority settling elsewhere in South America, namely Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

But tens of thousands have also made it to the US. Fom fiscal years 2017 to 2019, the Department of Homeland Security reported that Venezuelans were by far the largest group of asylum-seekers, averaging more than 25,000 per year and exceeding the number from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, combined.

In its formal designation, DHS says Venezuelans are receiving protected status due to the “severe economic crisis” back home, as well as “a prolonged political crisis” sparked by President Nicolas Maduro’s disputed victory in the country’s 2018 election and effective dissolution of its democratically elected legislature.

To apply for TPS, Venezuelans will need to pay $135 in fees and another $410 for a work permit, The Miami Herald reported. Those who enter the US on or after March 8 are ineligible.

The announcement comes days after Colombia, home to nearly 2 million Venezuelan migrants, granted those refugees legal status for the next decade.

Juan Escalante, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela and digital campaigns manager at FWD.us, which advocates for criminal justice and immigration reform, said he was relieved by the news.

“The chaos, turmoil, and political unrest that has consumed my native homeland of Venezuela is heartbreaking,” he said in a statement, “and the idea that more than 300,000 Venezuelans who have been living in and contributing to the US could be deported to a country where their lives and freedoms would be threatened is terrifying.”

While the last administration claimed to support Venezuelans, it continued to deport them back to a country that it publicly condemned as violent and authoritarian. It was only on January 19, a day before leaving office, that the former president offered legal protections to some 94,000 Venezuelans.

“This shows solidarity with the over 5 million Venezuelans that have fled the country,” Geoff Ramsey, director for Venezuela at the Washington Office on Latin America, a DC think tank, told Insider. He urged the administration to “go even further,” however, and pressure its allies in South America to increase social services for the Venezuelan diaspora elsewhere.

“Far too many other countries have backtracked on their commitments to fleeing Venezuelans,” he said.

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Biden calls for accepting as many as 125,000 refugees per year – more than 8 times the number accepted under Trump

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US President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2021.

Declaring his intent to restore the United States’ “moral leadership,” President Joe Biden announced that he is raising the cap on the number of refugees the country to as many as 125,000 for the fiscal year that begins this fall.

According to the White House, Biden also intends to work with Congress on overriding the cap for this fiscal year, set at just 15,000 by his predecessor.

But actually hitting a higher target right away would be difficult, even without a pandemic. During the Trump years, more than a third of US resettlement offices were shuttered, with their accompanying staff let go, the Associated Press reported – capacity that will need to be restored before admissions can be ramped up.

The president acknowledged that in a speech at the US State Department on Thursday. “It’s going to take time to rebuild what has been so badly damaged, but that’s precisely what we’re going to do,” Biden said. Accordingly, “I’m directing the State Department to consult with Congress about making a down payment on that commitment as soon as possible.”

While a major increase – and the highest cap since 1993 – the new ceiling of 125,000 refugees is still far below the number the US accepted years ago. In 1980, the US resettled more than 207,000 people fleeing violence, poverty, and oppression; in fiscal year 2020, that number fell to less than 12,000.

In President Barack Obama’s final year in office, the US accepted just under 85,000 refugees.

Building capacity to resettle refugees is not needed solely within the government itself. There are nine national agencies that work with the State Department to find homes for the displaced; they too have faced staff cuts in the wake of a diminishing need for their services.

“Rebuilding our nation’s significantly-dismantled refugee resettlement system will take a great deal of effort and advocacy,” Tim Breene, CEO of the Christian humanitarian group World Relief, said in a statement. He urged the Biden administration not to wait before accepting more refugees, calling on the president to lift the current year’s cap on admissions and scrap “other policies restricting access to asylum.”

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Over 1,300 asylum-seekers assaulted in Mexico while remaining there under Trump administration policy, new report says

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A migrant in the “Remain in Mexico” program talks to an immigration agent outside the premises of the National Migration Institute (INM) while waiting to renew her permission to stay legally in Mexico to wait for their immigration hearing in the U.S., in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico July 8, 2020.

  • Human Rights First, a US nonprofit, documented more than 1,300 attacks against asylum-seekers in Mexico since February 2019.
  • Thousands of asylum-seekers have been forced by the Trump administration to remain in Mexico while awaiting a hearing on their claims.
  • President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to immediately rescind the program.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

More than 1,300 people have been raped, kidnapped, or otherwise assaulted since February 2019, when the Trump administration began requiring asylum-seekers to wait out their claims in Mexico, according to a new report.

“Continuing to turn away and expel people seeking US refugee protection at the southern border is both a humanitarian disgrace and a legal travesty,” Kennji Kizuka, a researcher at Human Rights First, which put out the study, said Wednesday. “The Trump administration is flouting US laws and treaty obligations to protect refugees, and weaponizing the pandemic to block and expel people seeking safety in the United States.”

But Kizuka told Business Insider that the report from Human Rights First understates the problem, noting that assaults against those deported under a more recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention order have not actually been included in the count, which is limited to those expelled under the “Remain in Mexico” program. Due to that program, 23,000 people are currently waiting, in Mexico, to hear if their fears of violence will be sufficient to gain asylum in the US.

In March, the CDC issued an order effectively denying the right to seek asylum – an order that CBS News reported came only after intense lobbying from the White House – the US has expelled over 260,000 migrants, including at least 8,800 unaccompanied children, per Human Rights First (the ACLU estimates the number was more like 14,000 by November). 

And the Trump administration has continued deporting kids even after a court order explicitly demanding that it stop, a US judge having ruled in November that the expulsions violate migrants’ right to due process; dozens have been sent back to Mexico anyway.

“This is what the Trump administration is doing to migrants in the name of stopping the spread of COVID while they hold lavish holiday parties inside The White House with no social distancing or masks, “Al Otro Lado, a nonprofit that assists immigrants at the border, said in response to the report. “This was never about stopping COVID-19.”

The incoming Biden administration has pledged to revisit the CDC’s order and immediately end the “Remain in Mexico” program. For many, however, the damage will have already been done. According to Human Rights First, at least 318 children returned to Mexico – whether they were from there originally or not – “were kidnapped or subjected to kidnapping attempts.” That figure includes only those victims who were willing to come forward and speak to journalists or researchers.

The stories that have been told are horrific. In May, for example, an asylum-seeking couple from Cuba were kidnapped immediately after they were returned to Nuevo Laredo by US officials, “held by armed men in a room covered in blood where migrants with missing body parts moaned on the floor,” according to Human Rights First.

Critics don’t just blame the United States, however. The Remain in Mexico program is only possible, after all, because the government of center-left President Andrés Manuel López Obrador agreed to it. On Wednesday, two Mexican nonprofit organizations, the Institute for Women in Migration and the Foundation for Justice and the Democratic State of Law, filed a complaint with Mexico’s top prosecutor demanding an investigation into the de facto impunity enjoyed by those who victimize US asylum-seekers in the country.

The attorney general should not only look for those criminals, they said, “but also they should investigate the criminal liability of the Mexican authorities that have assumed the obligation of guarantors [of migrant safety] and have breached it,” the Mexican outlet Animal Politico reported.

Many of those being denied entry to the US, meanwhile, are coming from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, countries that the Trump administration at least publicly considers violent and politically repressive. Some have managed to avoid the Remain in Mexico program only to be forcibly returned to the hands of a government they fled.

Valeska Alemán Sandoval, a Nicaraguan student activist, told this reporter she was tortured by a pro-government paramilitary group, a toenail ripped out, and forced by police to record a “confession” identifying her fellow anti-austerity protesters as criminals and drug addicts. But the Nicaraguan government, while adamantly “anti-imperialist” in its rhetoric, closely collaborates with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helping the Trump administration expedite the deportation of its own citizens.

In August, Alemán was a beneficiary of this international cooperation and put on a flight back to Managua, where Nicaraguan authorities were waiting.

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