MIAMI – The Venezuelan community in South Florida gathered Tuesday at Bayfront Park to call on the federal government to grant Venezuelans temporary protected status.
"We need to do it now," Florida Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Florida, said.
Rodriguez joined a growing chorus of voices, demanding President Donald Trump shelter Venezuelans who fled to the U.S. without legal immigration status.
"Mr. President, if you're watching this, this is the opportunity to prove the critics wrong. You need to extend TPS," immigration lawyer Mark Prada said.
TPS would allow Venezuelans in South Florida to legally live and work in the U.S. until it's safe to go home.
"They need driver's license, they need to open accounts in the banks, they need to work, because they have to live here, because in Venezuela, it's impossible to live now," Venezuelan-American activist Jose Hernandez said.
Months of violent protests have rocked Venezuela.
Protesters blame the government for widespread inflation and a severe shortage of food and medicine.
"These people are suffering. This should not be happening -- not so close to our shores," Prada said.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, have also demanded TPS for Venezuelans.
"TPS is something we can do in the U.S. right now to protect the Venezuelans here in the U.S. from having to return to violence and hunger in Venezuela," Rodriguez said.
Ten countries are designated for TPS, including Haiti, where droves of people fled after the devastating 2010 earthquake.
So far, Trump has not said whether he's open to making Venezuela the 11th country.