Venezuelan nationals in the United States could receive temporary legal status from the Trump administration if Sen. Marco Rubio gets his way.
The Florida Republican has argued that the Department of Homeland Security should render Venezuelans eligible for temporary protected status, a designation that shelters people from deportation if they can't return to their home country. Such a move would be in tension with Trump's broader immigration policies, including a review of the TPS program, but consistent with his administration's rebuke of Venezuelan authoritarian president, Nicolas Maduro.
"In light of the ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, it is not in the best interests of the United States to deport non-violent Venezuelan nationals back to the country at this time," Rubio wrote in a March 20 letter quoted Tuesday by McClatchy.
The appeal was addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and John Kelly, who served at the time as Homeland Security secretary but has since taken over as White House chief of staff. Kelly, during his tenure at DHS, made a point of reviewing TPS for abuses. He warned beneficiaries of the program not to expect permanent residence in the United States, given that the law is designed to benefit people whose home countries are wracked by civil war or "other extraordinary and temporary conditions," according to DHS.
"I have a law that I am supposed to enforce," Kelly told the Miami Herald in June. He noted that some countries had been in the program for years beyond the crisis that had rendered them eligible in the first place. "TPS is not supposed to continue to be enforced until Haiti's like Jamaica, or any country with a very functioning democracy [or] a relatively low unemployment rate," Kelly said. "That's not the point of it."
That argument doesn't necessarily preclude Trump from giving the protection to Venezuelans, however, given the South American nation's descent into economic and political crisis. Trump imposed sanctions on the regime last week after Maduro forced the passage of a referendum that will allow his allies to rewrite the constitution and disempower political opponents. Venezuela is also suffering through a severe food crisis.
"We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week when Trump imposed the latest sanctions. "These measures are carefully calibrated to deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing to maintain its illegitimate rule, protect the United States financial system from complicity in Venezuela's corruption and in the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people, and allow for humanitarian assistance."
If Trump were to authorize the temporary protected status designation for Venezuela, Kelly could be expected to argue for revoking it once the crisis subsides.
"I go back to this issue of, the longer that people stay in the United States, the more of an argument they have that they have become Americanized and ‘why do I have to leave?'" he said in June.