Tuesday is the first of 180 days that Venezuelans in South Florida will be able to apply for the new Temporary Protected Status, which also allows applications for a work permit and travel authorization.
The benefit comes about a month after former President Donald Trump’s administration granted Deferred Enforced Departure for some Venezuelans.
Carlos Vecchio has been the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s envoy in Washington, D.C., since 2019. He said the TPS is clear evidence that Biden stands against the dictatorship in Venezuela.
“We are not here because we want [to be.] We are here because we have been forced to leave ... We are running away from hunger, violence, political persecution,” said Vecchio, who moved to the U.S. in 2014.
On Tuesday, Vecchio joined a virtual meeting with a group of Democratic lawmakers including Sen. Bob Menendez and Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Albio Sires, Stephanie Murphy, and Darren Soto.
“Over 320,000 will be able to apply,” Menendez said about Biden’s TPS, adding Trump’s DED did not provide enough time.
Vecchio said the best humanitarian aid that the U.S. can provide is to help secure a Democratic transition in Venezuela.
“The Venezuelan diaspora is one of the most educated, and I don’t have any doubt that it will contribute tremendously to promote American values and to help in the recovery of the American economy,” Vecchio said.
Murphy, a Vietnamese American who represents Orlando’s district, agreed with Vecchio and said TPS must be a part of a broader American strategy to push for change in Venezuela.
Wasserman Schultz said she lives in “Westonzuela,” or Weston, a suburban community in Broward County, and she has heard the stories of suffering from Venezuelans. She knew TPS was needed.
“The goal is to be able to make sure that we don’t need TPS,” Wasserman Schultz said.
In Miami-Dade County, Patricia Andrade said there is an urgent need for lasting solutions.
Andrade founded the Venezuela Awareness Foundation about 17 years ago. She has been helping vulnerable migrants since Hugo Chávez, who took office in 1999, thwarted a recall referendum in 2004.
The exodus continued after Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, took office after Chávez died in 2013. The deep ties to China and Russia have helped him to stay in power and caused Andrade to start the Raices Venezolanas program in 2016.
“Entire families separated out of necessity, arriving in different countries by land, sea, or air, with their entire lives rushed into a suitcase or backpack and little or no money to survive,” Andrade wrote in a GoFundMe page late last year.
To help those displaced, she has a storage facility where families can come and pick up what they need. She has furniture, sheets, towels and other donations. Andrade is hoping the TPS is just the first step the Biden administration will take on Venezuela.
Her biggest fear: “The Biden administration says, ‘OK, the Venezuelans are happy and I am going to work on other things.’”
The designation of Venezuela for TPS and the 180-day registration period begins on Tuesday. The registration period will remain in effect through Sept. 5 and the TPS through Sept. 9, 2022.
TPS applicants are also able to apply for Employment Authorization Documents and for a travel authorization, which allows them to travel in and out of the U.S. There are risks if the traveler has been in the U.S. illegally even with a travel document.