Say what you will about President Biden’s record on immigration policy, but here’s an undeniable point: His administration has expanded Temporary Protected Status dramatically, and that’s a good thing.
Last week, Biden redesignated Venezuelans already in the United States as beneficiaries of the humanitarian program, which grants them permission to live and work in the United States and avoid potential deportation. It’s a smart policy move for Biden.
“This decision will fundamentally bring much-needed stability to nearly half a million Venezuelans,” Julio Henríquez, a local immigration attorney, said in an interview. That’s in addition to approximately 240,000 Venezuelans who already qualified for the program under its original designation. TPS and the work permits it grants are generally renewable every 18 months. But regardless of the “temporary” aspect of the program, Henríquez said, “it will have an extraordinary impact.” Venezuelans will be able to get jobs and contribute to the economy, he said. “They won’t have to live in the shadows.” That prospect cannot be overstated.
Biden’s decision comes after intense lobbying from New York and Massachusetts Democrats, who have been publicly clamoring for a federal mechanism to grant expedited work permits to new arrivals. TPS was established by Congress 33 years ago, in large part as a response to our country’s foreign policy in El Salvador, as Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts recounted to The New York Times in a 2021 piece detailing the history of TPS. It was designed to protect citizens from countries facing severe but temporary conditions, such as a war, a natural disaster, or any other type of humanitarian crisis. Venezuelans in the United States fled from “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions,” according to a press release from the US Department of Homeland Security.
As for its broad impact, in 2021 TPS holders contributed more than $2.2 billion in taxes, including nearly $1 billion to state and local governments, according to the American Immigration Council. And that was when the total number of beneficiaries was roughly 350,000 people. Currently, there are 16 countries designated for TPS.
While it’s unclear how many Venezuelans who entered the United States prior to the July 31 cutoff currently reside in Massachusetts and are thus eligible to apply for the program, it’s not a stretch to say it will have a meaningful impact on those in the state. In New York, for instance, the city has estimated that eligible Venezuelans make up the largest group of migrants and represent about a quarter of the 60,000 migrants in the city’s strained shelter system, according to The Wall Street Journal. In Massachusetts, authorities have said that Venezuelans make up a small percentage of the more than 6,500 families in the state’s emergency family shelter system.
But focusing on that metric alone is a narrow-minded way to look at the potential impact of Biden’s move. The universe of Venezuelan arrivals in Massachusetts is larger than those who may be in need of emergency housing. It also includes those who have been allowed in under Biden’s humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. (Incidentally, another obvious but very small group of potential applicants with ties to the state is the Martha’s Vineyard 50, the group of mostly Venezuelan migrants who served as unsuspecting pawns in Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s brazen political stunt a year ago.)
Consider Gregory Salazar, a 30-year-old immigrant who was hit by a car in March in Hyde Park, and his mom, Nilliret Yaime. Both have dual Venezuelan and Colombian citizenship. Salazar arrived to the area in January on a student visa to study English at EF, a Cambridge-based institute. He suffered multiple fractures — for which he had to undergo several surgeries, including a craniotomy — and complete hearing loss. Salazar spent a month and a half in the hospital and still needs two surgeries to get cochlear implants. Yaime moved to Boston to look after her son, but they’re struggling to make ends meet, she told me in an interview in Spanish. So when she heard the TPS news last week and informed her son, “we were both so happy,” she said.
“My son applied for asylum but that’s been such a slow process,” Yaime said. “Now that we can apply for TPS, which is fabulous, it will give us legal status and potentially access to a better health insurance.” But the most important thing is access to a work permit, she said. “Eventually, it is my hope that we both can get a job to be able to cover all of our expenses.”
For people like Yaime and Salazar — or the Venezuelan migrants sent to the Vineyard by DeSantis or the tens of thousands who dare to cross the dangerous Darién Gap to come to the United States — TPS may be temporary, only one step beyond limbo. But that’s better than the status quo.