Late on September 20, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced he’d be redesignating Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months and extending that status to include an estimated 714,700 nationals of that country who entered the United States before the completely arbitrary date of July 31, 2023. That means 400,000-plus Venezuelans who entered illegally under Biden will be able to work. While the secretary claims he made the decision “[a]fter reviewing the country conditions in Venezuela and consulting with interagency partners”, it’s clearly just political cover for Democratic leadership in New York City, which as I recently explained “has become a refugee camp before our very eyes”. Somewhere in Caracas, the country’s socialist strongman is likely applauding this decision.
TPS, in Brief. Under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the DHS secretary may designate a country for TPS if he finds:
(A) that there is an ongoing armed conflict within the state and, due to such conflict, requiring the return of aliens who are nationals of that state to that state (or to the part of the state) would pose a serious threat to their personal safety;
(B) that — (i) there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster resulting in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in the area affected; (ii) the foreign state is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return to the state of aliens who are nationals of the state; and (iii) the foreign state officially has requested designation; or
(C) that there exist extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety, unless the secretary finds that permitting the aliens to remain temporarily in the United States is contrary to the national interest of the United States.
Pursuant to that statute, aliens present in the United States on the effective date of the designation can be granted TPS status provided they’re not inadmissible on certain criminal or national-security grounds and aren’t persecutors. Section 244 also allows those aliens to work in the United States and shields them from removal for as long as the designation is in effect.
As my colleague Mark Krikorian explained in 2016:
Congress in 1990 created [TPS] in an attempt to hem in unilateral executive actions on immigration. The law created a framework for presidents to let illegal aliens from a country stay here for a limited period of time if there was a natural disaster or civil violence back home that made the country "unable, temporarily, to adequately handle the return of its nationals." The point was to prevent presidential freelancing.
Despite that, in October 2017, I described “temporary protected status” as “the biggest misnomer in immigration”, because people from many designated countries have languished in that “temporary” status for decades — in the case of Somalia, for 32 years, since September 16, 1991.
Venezuela TPS. The TPS designation for Venezuela is a cautionary tale. The original designation applied to nationals of that country who had continuously resided in the United States since March 8, 2021.
Consider that date. According to CBP records, its immigration officers encountered 2,787 Venezuelan nationals at the Southwest border in all of FY 2020, and 2,274 others between October 2021 (the first month of FY 2022) and February 2022 (which ended eight days before that designation took effect). That’s 5,061 in total.
Those pre-TPS encounter statistics are representative of illegal Venezuelan migration into the United States compared to prior years. In FY 2019, Border Patrol agents apprehended 2,202 Venezuelans at the Southwest border, while in FY 2018, agents caught just 62 Venezuelans entering illegally there.
All of this is to say that there really weren’t that many Venezuelans coming here illegally before the country was first designated for TPS.
Since then? Between March 2021 and October of that year, CBP encountered 46,404 illegal Venezuelan migrants, more than 187,700 in FY 2022, and 168,000-plus in just the first 10 months of FY 2023.
Border Patrol apprehended 43 percent more Venezuelans at the Southwest border in May 2021 (7,386) — two months after the designation — than agents had apprehended there in the entire period between October 2017 and February 2021 (5,164).
Am I saying the Biden administration’s designation of Venezuela for TPS is the reason why agents apprehended more than 311,000 illegal Venezuelan nationals at the Southwest border between March 2021 and July 2023? It’s not the only reason — but it’s far and away the primary and driving reason.
“Enduring Humanitarian, Security, Political, and Environmental Conditions”. What other reasons could there be? Mayorkas claims that he is redesignating and extending TPS for Venezuela due to that country’s “increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions”.
That said, he never identifies any “environmental conditions” that would justify his action, and none are readily apparent.
There was a magnitude 5.1 earthquake near Bucaramanga, Venezuela, on September 14, but a much stronger tremor (magnitude 5.8) hit the Washington, D.C., area back in August 2011, and while many residents noticed it, few were seriously affected. Hurricane Irene four days later was a bigger concern there. Plus, Venezuela’s a pretty big country, so anyone who was impacted by the quake could relocate.
Speaking of hurricanes, Hurricane Julia in October 2022 hit Mexico and Central and South America in October 2022, and while there was flooding and 54 died during a landslide in the Venezuelan town of Las Tejerias, other countries were as adversely impacted but they weren’t designated for TPS. It appears that things have subsequently been cleaned up, and that life has gone on.
So, what about the other factors — “increased instability and lack of safety due to enduring humanitarian, security, and political conditions”? They all have one source, as I explained in April: “The country has been an ‘economic basket case’ for many years, suffering under the increasingly repressive socialist ‘chavismo’ policies of the late President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013) and his vice president and successor, President Nicholas Maduro (2013-present).”
Click on the “economic basket case” reference in my earlier piece and you will see that it links to a Fox News article describing the country thusly: “Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America, but in recent years millions have fled the country amid mass starvation and violence after socialist policies were enacted and government seized private industries.”
That’s what socialism inevitably does, of course, but as Fox News reported: “Through the nationalizations, Americans from Michael Moore to Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz often applauded Chavez’s regime.” It’s not clear whether Mayorkas consulted with either of them.
Here’s the thing, however. When you go to that Fox News “economic basket case” piece, you’ll see it was published in January 2019, again a year in which Border Patrol agents at the Southwest border apprehended just over 2,200 Venezuelans who had entered illegally. That’s less than one-fifth the number (11,430) who were apprehended in July 2023 alone.
Perhaps, you might ask, have things gotten exponentially worse in the interim? Actually no. In fact, there are glimmers of hope that Maduro will soon be gone, and chavismo with him.
On September 17, Mary Anastasia O’Grady — perhaps the best U.S. media analyst on what’s occurring in South America — published a piece in the Wall Street Journal captioned “Venezuelans Try Again to Oust Maduro: The opposition parties stage a primary in hope of forcing a real election in 2024”.
Talk of a free election in a dictatorship may seem preposterous. The police states built by Stalin, Mao, Castro and Chávez made sure that the boss and his successors were never voted out of office.
There have, however, been strongmen in modern history pushed aside by popular will. It happened to Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega in 1990 and Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in 2000.
The opposition’s primary, set for Oct. 22, is another reason for hope.
According to O’Grady, that primary will be privately run, circumventing what she describes as “Mr. Maduro’s national electoral council”, and her piece focuses on opposition presidential candidate Maria Corina Machado, who:
insists that critical support among groups that Mr. Maduro — and Chávez — once counted on has plummeted. “The grip that the regime has had over a large segment of the population has been lost.” This includes elements inside “the armed forces, the police, the paramilitary groups known as ‘collectivos.’ What I’m seeing is that the social pressure has grown to such a level that people are desperate, and the military too, in the low and mid ranks.” Power groups inside the government are fracturing, she says, making reference to the March purge of former Chávez insider Tareck El Aissami on charges of corruption at the state-owned oil company, PdVSA.
Interestingly, strongman Maduro disqualified Machado from running in June, but according to O’Grady “the ban has boosted her popularity”. Sound familiar?
In any event, Machado is the leading opposition candidate (she has a 27-point lead over her nearest opponent), and she asserts: “If I do well, then it will be clear who the leader of the opposition is. Maduro will be forced, in his negotiations with the international community, to lift bans on candidates and hold free elections.”
I trust O’Grady’s assessment, and Machado’s in particular, of the situation in Venezuela over Mayorkas’s. The former has no axe to grind, and the latter has more skin in the game than anybody else, either here or there.
The Venezuelan Diaspora. One factor that has been largely overlooked in the Biden administration’s handling of this Venezuelan migrant surge is that many if not most of those migrants aren’t actually coming here from Venezuela. They’re part of a massive diaspora who pulled up stakes and went to other countries in recent years.
As the Washington Post reported in June:
The number of Venezuelans who have fled the socialist state’s political, economic and social meltdown in the past eight years has now surpassed 7 million, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Most have settled in neighboring countries where, since 2020, they’ve struggled with coronavirus lockdowns, economic turmoil and increasing hostility toward migrants. [Emphasis added.]
Back in March 2018, the Post was reporting on the massive emigration of Venezuelans into Chile, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador. And, especially to neighboring Colombia, where “[r]oughly 250,000 Venezuelan migrants ha[d] surged ... since August , with 3,000 a day still arriving”.
In May, my colleague Todd Bensman published a video that included interviews at the U.S. border with Venezuelans who had been living in third countries (including one woman who had resided previously in Ecuador for seven years, where she was manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant). Bensman explained:
Many are committing fraud (a felony) — throwing away their documents and pretending they have just escaped their home country and political persecution when in fact they have been living safely and happily, and gainfully employed, in other countries in South America and the Caribbean for years.
Which of course raises the question of why Mayorkas is granting TPS to Venezuelan nationals who have been living for years completely unaffected by anything that is going on in the country.
The New York City Refugee Camp. That brings me to the purely political aspect of this move — that Mayorkas is providing political cover for the president’s fellow partisans, New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul (D).
NYC is struggling to accommodate the 110,000-plus migrants whom Biden released at the Southwest border and who have made their way to the city, 58,000 of whom were living in public housing there. Adams estimates that they will cost NYC $12 billion and asserts that the crisis “will destroy New York City”.
NBC News has reported: “The migrants in New York’s shelter system are from all over the world, but many are from Venezuela.”
The city posits that the reason why tens of thousands of migrants are living in city shelters is that they are unable to work legally in the United States, which as I explained on September 20, most would otherwise be unable to do. Personally, I think that many if not most would continue to rely on assistance even if they could work, but only time will tell if I am correct.
Hochul floated the “unprecedented” idea of issuing state employment authorization to those migrants, but as I explained in that September 20 piece, it’s “unprecedented” because she lacks the authority to do so. Would the Biden administration — or possibly Texas — challenge that action? Good question.
But it’s a question that’s unlikely to be answered anytime soon, thanks to Mayorkas’s TPS declaration. Again, it will grant all those Venezuelans who are relying on municipal assistance in NYC to now seek employment authorization.
NBC News is not exactly a right-wing outlet, but look at its article that I referenced above, and you will see that it links the TPS extension directly to Democratic Mayor Adams’ travails, from the outset:
Under pressure from politicians and protesters in New York City, the Biden administration on Wednesday is making all Venezuelans who have lived in the U.S. since July of this year eligible for Temporary Protected Status, giving more than 200,000 migrants who crossed the border without legal documentation the right to obtain work authorization and live in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
That’s an abuse of the secretary’s authority, and an action that makes it likely that at some point Congress is going to come in and either trim or eliminate DHS’s TPS authority. This administration, however, has never been a “big picture” outfit, and its concern for its posterity is minimal, at best.
“The Outward Migration Is Intentional on the Part of the Regime”. In his press release announcing the expansion of TPS, Mayorkas asserts, “it is critical that Venezuelans understand that those who have arrived here after July 31, 2023 are not eligible for such protection, and instead will be removed when they are found to not have a legal basis to stay”.
Mayorkas knows that’s an empty threat, but then it’s just the latest empty threat that he’s made. He also asserted in September 2021 that aliens who entered illegally on or after November 1, 2020, are “priorities” for removal as “threats to border security”, but has nonetheless allowed more than 2.3 million aliens who did enter illegally after that date to reside here free from restraint. The biggest “threat to border security” is sitting in the DHS secretary’s office. But I digress.
The main point is that Mayorkas’s TPS extension is simply going to encourage even more Venezuelans to enter illegally, exactly as DHS’s March 2021 TPS announcement spurred on the Venezuelan migrant surge that the country as a whole — and NYC in particular — has been experiencing ever since. If Adams is correct, you’d better visit the Big Apple while you can because it’s not going to last long.
The worst part, however, is that all this plays into Venezuelan President Maduro’s hands. I may be burying the lede on O’Grady’s Journal article, but here’s the key portion for this TPS discussion:
“There is one element that brings Venezuelans together: the desire to have our children back home,” [opposition presidential candidate Machado] says. “People are fighting to reunite their families or they say ‘I don’t want my last one to leave.’ This has reached a spiritual dimension. People, a lot who consider themselves chavistas, say ‘I am so tired of this humiliation.’ This goes beyond hunger.”
The outward migration is intentional on the part of the regime, Ms. Machado says. “They want people to give up.” But “when people see that things that look hard and improbable are ethically inescapable, that’s how change is made.”
To repeat: Mayorkas’s extension and redesignation of TPS for Venezuela is simply going to encourage even more Venezuelans to enter the United States illegally — which is exactly what DHS’s March 2021 TPS designation for Venezuela did. And that’s exactly how that country’s socialist strongman wants it.