WASHINGTON - The U.S. House on Thursday approved legislation aimed at protecting thousands of Venezuelans living in the United States from deportation by granting them Temporary Protected Status.
The measure was adopted on a 272-158 vote after a debate that required a simple majority for passage. The same bill failed earlier this week when 154 Republicans voted against it under a procedure for quick passage that required approval from two-thirds of the 435 House members. All 158 votes against the bill Thursday were Republicans, while 39 Republicans voted in favor.
Similar legislation has not moved forward in the Senate since it was introduced in February.
Arguments for, against
Temporary Protected Status is usually granted by the Department of Homeland Security to people from countries ravaged by natural disasters or war and lets them remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home.
Rep. Doug Collin of Georgia, the top Republican on the House judiciary panel, said he opposed the bill because recent court rulings have blocked the Trump administration from terminating the TPS designation for some countries.
“We should not ensure renewal is automatic,” Collins said. “If we do not do that, we can continue the same broken TPS designation process.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a Republican who was a co-sponsor of the measure, urged other members of his caucus to support the bill.
“This is not to be confused with issues dealing with immigration,” Diaz-Balart said. “This is to deal with a specific case of the Venezuelans who are struggling under this oppressive regime and we should not return people back.”
The Trump administration was one of the first to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of the South American nation, a step that has been taken by more than 50 other governments. Those countries contend President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was fraudulent.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates 200,000 Venezuelans currently living in the United States could receive TPS. Under the measure, Venezuelan nationals would be eligible to get migratory relief and work permits valid for 18 months if they have been continuously present in the U.S. since the bill’s enactment and apply paying a $360 fee.
Stuck in the Senate
Rep. Darren Soto, a Florida Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said after the vote that “we want this to be as bipartisan as possible because it gives us a better chance in the Senate.”
The TPS legislation is the fourth Venezuela-related bill adopted by the House so far this year, but none has made it yet to the Senate floor.
“Our hope is the vote today will really light a fire in the Senate to get going on the Venezuela bills,” said Rep. Donna Shalala, also a Florida Democrat.
The United Nations estimates that at least 4 million Venezuelans have left their country in recent years because of a chronic scarcity of food and medicines and a hyperinflation that reached 130,000% last year.