By: Kemil A. Saab, Articles Editor, J.D. Candidate, May 2018, St. Thomas University School of Law.

It is no secret that Venezuela is living in chaos and experiencing one of the worst crises in the world.  Since 2001, Venezuela’s socio-economic and political situation has declined, resulting in the world highest inflation of 254.9%.[1]  The uncontrolled inflation has created a widespread famine and vital medicines shortage.  Venezuelans either cannot find food and medicines or cannot afford them.  The government has stopped subsidizing these indispensable products, and illogically, is strongly regulating and punishing national private producers, causing them to stop or reduce their production and personnel.  Additionally, the country has been experiencing a dramatic electrical blackout, which not only has affected the people’s everyday life but also the national economy as a whole. This has created social unrest and protests all over the country, which sadly has caused the deaths of hundreds due to the government’s aggressive attempts to suppress them.

However, the story does not end there.  Its capital, Caracas, is considered the most dangerous city in the world with “119.87 homicides per 100,000 residents,”[2] and seven other cities are within the top fifty most violent in the world.  Additionally, the country’s corruption has increased due to the absence of separation of powers, leaving the country only in the hands of the executive branch.  President Nicolás Maduro has seized control of the judicial, legislative, and electoral branches and has ordered military forces against the people who oppose him.  Thus, Venezuela is living a “humanitarian disaster of economic collapse and political repression.”[3]

As a result, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have been forced to emigrate, leaving their families, professions, and homes behind.  Unfortunately, when people leave Venezuela, it does not mean they are leaving their problems behind. Venezuelan immigrants are facing another problem; where to go?  Thousands have come to the U.S. trying to escape from the mounting violence, food shortage, and political persecution; around thirty Venezuelan families are arriving weekly.  The majority are entering under their tourist visas, which allows them to stay here for six months without working. Other means to remain here legally are very expensive.  Meanwhile, others do not qualify for the available visas, leaving asylum or illegality as their only options.  Still, asylum does not guarantee Venezuelans a protected status in the U.S., making them subject to deportation.  Nonetheless, a possible solution could be the designation of Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”).

TPS is a temporal and discretionary designation given to a certain foreign country by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (“DHS”) “due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely.”[4]  “TPS allows an alien to remain in the [U.S.] legally, and this status may be granted to an alien who is a national of a designated country that is experiencing ongoing armed conflict,” an environmental disaster, or other extraordinary condition.[5] Since 1990, the U.S. has granted TPS mainly to nationals of countries facing humanitarian situations, providing three essential benefits: prevent their removal from the U.S., employment authorization document, and in some instances, travel authorization.  Once the TPS is granted, the person cannot be detained based on his or her status.

In 2017, the Venezuelan American Bar Association requested President Trump and the DHS to recommend Venezuela for TPS designation due to its “social unrest, violent crime, . . . pervasive food and medicine shortages[,] . . . [and h]uman rights violations.”[6]  Although there has been no response, President Trump is aware of Venezuela’s current situation, acknowledging the Venezuelan’s crisis and the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian actions towards its people.  However, it is still uncertain whether the U.S. will grant Venezuelans this benefit.

Nonetheless, Venezuela’s current situation could potentially be considered for TPS.  Venezuela recently suffered a “wave of official violence against dissidents and protesters [which] . . . left 125 people dead, including at least 73 killed by government forces or allied thugs,” and 1,000 detained on political charges.[7] Venezuela’s inflation rate is expected to reach 1,100% this year, making food and medicines completely unaffordable or scarce, which will likely cause famine, desperation, and more violent protests.  The unemployment rate is escalating, as many companies have had to close their doors or reduce their production enormously.  The lack of safety is inescapable around the country due to the increasing violent crime rate.  All of these facts translate into the severe burdens Venezuelans could face if they are forced to go back home. Venezuelans in the U.S. are presently living in fear of deportation or uncertainty as to their legal status and future.

Designating Venezuela for TPS would allow many Venezuelans in the U.S. to remain lawfully for a determined period.  This benefit could let them, at least temporarily, continue with their lives by having the opportunity to earn a living without the anxiety of being deported or ending up in the same desperate situation that first made them leave their country.

[1] Will Martin, The 14 Countries with the Highest Inflation Rates in the World, Business Insiders (Oct. 12, 2017); http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-highest-inflation-rates-in-the-world-2017-10?r=UK&IR=T; see also Patrick Gillespie, Thousands of Venezuelans Fleeing to the US, CNN (May 23, 2017), http://money.cnn.com/2017/05/23/news/economy/venezuela-us-asylum-refugees/index.html.

[2]Armin Rosen, Jeremy Bender & Amanda Macias, The 50 Most Violent Cities in the World, Business Insider(Jan. 26, 2016), http://www.businessinsider.com/most-violent-cities-in-the-world-2016-1/#2-san-pedro-sula-honduras-had- 11103-homicides-per-100000-residents-49.

[3]SibyllaBrodzinskyet al, Dan Collyns in Lima and UkiGoñi in Buenos Aire‘At home, we couldn’t get by’: More Venezuelans Flee as Crisis Deepens, The Guardian(July 17, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/17/venezuela-migrants-americas-leaving-home.

[4]Temporary Protected Status, U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security (last updated Feb. 2, 2018), https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status.

[5]Okpa v. U.S. I.N.S., 266 F.3d 313, 315 (C.A. 4, 2001); see also 8 U.S.C.§1254a(b)(1)(A).

[6]TPS for Venezuela, Venambar,http://www.venambar.com/tps-for-venezuela.html (last visited Feb. 15, 2018); see also We the People: Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela, The White House (July 28, 2017), https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/temporary-protected-status-tps-venezuela-0.

[7]The specter of civil war in Venezuela, The Washington Post (Aug. 13, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-specter-of-civil-war-in-venezuela/2017/08/13/aaa07852-7ecd-11e7-a669-b400c5c7e1cc_story.html?utm_term=.4af56f83f163.