On his final night in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order deferring the removal of Venezuelans currently in the United States for 18 months, a move long advocated by his Florida Republican allies.
“The deteriorative condition within Venezuela, which presents an ongoing national security threat to the safety and well-being of the American people, warrants the deferral of the removal of Venezuelan nationals who are present in the United States,” Trump’s executive order reads.
The order applies to all Venezuelan citizens in the U.S. with the exception of those who are subject to extradition, are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act or were deported, excluded, or removed prior to Jan. 20. It also authorizes their employment while in the United States.
The decision could benefit as many as 200,000 Venezuelans otherwise at risk of being sent back to the troubled South American nation.
President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office hours after Trump signed the order, has the authority to reverse or amend the executive action at any time. Transition officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But he has voiced approval for granting a deportation reprieve to Venezuelans in the past.
Florida Republicans immediately praised the decision.
“The Trump Administration has taken a significant and much-needed step to help Venezuelan nationals residing in the U.S.,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “Venezuela remains a nation in crisis as Maduro’s narco-terrorist regime continues to commit senseless acts of violence against the Venezuelan people.”
Rubio’s office has been pushing Trump to grant so-called Deferred Enforced Departure, or DED, to Venezuelans since October. He and incoming Foreign Relations committee chairman, Bob Menendez, D-NJ, proposed legislation to give Temporary Protective Status, or TPS, to Venezuelans but the bill was blocked in the Senate.
Both reprieves protect recipients from deportation, but DED is granted directly by the president instead of the Department of Homeland Security. In the past, administrations have granted DED after a TPS country program has ended, in order to give residents time to return to their homeland.
Miami Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who led the effort to pass the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019 in the House, thanked president Trump for what he called a “momentous decision.”
Newly elected representative and former Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Giménez also welcomed the news.
“Countless Venezuelans in my district came to our great nation in search of basic human rights and protections from oppression,” Gimenez said. “For them to be returned to Venezuela would be to subject them to even more brutal treatment, condemning them to a life of persecution, stripped from their most basic freedom, and fearing for their life.”
Over the last four years, the Trump administration has mounted a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign to remove Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro from power and instead support opposition leader Juan Guadó as the country’s legitimate president. But efforts have failed and Maduro now controls all institutions in the country.
The deportation reprieve stands in contrast to Trump’s hardline immigration policy, which has made it more difficult for many seeking refuge and opportunity to remain in the U.S. It also hints at domestic political considerations. The outgoing president won Florida in large part by appealing to Cubans and Venezuelans who embraced his tough stance against both countries’ leaders and misleadingly tried to portray Biden as a socialist.
Venezuelan opposition leaders have simultaneously pushed for a protections from deportation.
Analysts expect Biden to broaden beyond a Venezuela-driven agenda in the region, though he may not depart far from the core aspects of Trump’s stance against Maduro. At his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Antony Blinken, who is on track to head the State Department, said the Biden administration will continue supporting Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and keep putting pressure on “brutal dictator” Maduro.
According to the United Nations, more than five million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, many embarking on perilous journeys by foot or in flimsy boats in search of jobs, medical care and education.
The Trump order came on the same day that the outgoing administration imposed new sanctions on companies, vessels and individuals helping Venezuelan state-owned oil company PDVSA skirt U.S. sanctions .
“Those facilitating the illegitimate Maduro regime’s attempts to circumvent United States sanctions contribute to the corruption that consumes Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Miami Herald reporter Alex Daugherty contributed.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres