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Biden Plans Immigration Lifeline to Venezuelans Who Fled to U.S.

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 3/8/2021 Justin Sink
a person standing in front of a crowd: A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest. © Bloomberg A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest.

(Bloomberg) -- The Biden Administration on Monday will offer temporary protected status to an estimated 320,000 Venezuelans who fled their home country, allowing them to legally stay and work in the U.S.

Venezuelans who are accepted into the program will receive temporary immigration status for 18 months, said a senior administration official who requested anonymity. They’ll be required to apply in the next 180 days, pay a fee, demonstrate they were already residing in the U.S. and undergo a background check.

The move fulfills a campaign promise by President Joe Biden, and is intended to signal a shift from President Donald Trump, whose administration deported Venezuelans for years while criticizing the leftist government of President Nicolas Maduro. Democrats complained Trump’s hard-line immigration policies demonstrated a lack of empathy for people from a country that has suffered a brutal humanitarian crisis as Venezuela’s economy collapsed.

But in Trump’s final days in office, he authorized a program known as Deferred Enforced Departure that offered work permits and deportation protections to Venezuelans in the country illegally. That means the practical impact of Biden’s move may be blunted, though the administration official said the TPS program offered additional statutory assurances and encouraged Venezuelans in the U.S. to apply for the new offering.

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The move may still help Biden politically, particularly among the Venezuelan-American population in Florida. The president struggled to win over Latino voters in the state during the 2020 presidential election, and Democrats have said improving their standing with those voters will be crucial in defending their slim congressional majorities.

Administration officials said Biden’s approach would increase pressure on Maduro. The administration has said it is reviewing the sanctions put in place by the Trump administration to pressure Venezuela’s government, and will look to build more international support to pressure the Maduro regime.

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