Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Less than a week after former President Donald Trump issued a last-minute order to defer deportations of Venezuelans in the United States seeking refuge from the Maduro regime, Democratic senators went a step further and introduced legislation to grant them Temporary Protected Status.
Led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., judiciary committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2021 on Monday, saying Trump's 11th-hour executive order prohibiting the deportations of most Venezuelans in the United States for 18 months fell short of what is needed.
"After four years of empty promises and deceit, nobody believes Donald Trump had an epiphany on his last day in office and decided to protect the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans he was forcing into the shadows," Menendez, the incoming chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said in a statement announcing the bill.
"TPS is based in statute and is a legal immigration status, as opposed to Deferred Enforced Departure," he said. "That is why we are relaunching our campaign to actually stand with those fleeing the misery caused by the Maduro regime."
Since 2007, Venezuela has ranked among the top 10 countries who citizens have filed for new U.S. affirmative asylum applications, according to the Congressional Research Service, with Venezuelan nationals having filed the highest number of applications in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, accounting for 20% and 27% of such fillings for those respective years.
The Trump administration made ousting Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro one of its main foreign policy pursuits after the socialist leader's 2018 re-election was deemed illegitimate by the Venezuelan National Assembly.
However, while legislation to grant Venezuelans the ability to work and live in the United States under protected status passed the Democratic-led House of Representatives last year it faltered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
The Democratic senators said some 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States could be protected from forcible removal if granted Temporary Protected Status, which is a temporary but renewable program created in 1990 to provide relief from deportation and access to work permits for foreign nationals from certain countries.
With Democrats in control of the House, Senate and the presidency, Menendez said he is "convinced we will no longer be stymied in our efforts to enact an immigration system that reflects our nation's values."
"In consultation with the Biden administration, I look forward to finally making TPS for Venezuelans a reality in the near future," he said.
The move follows Republicans, led by Rep. Darren Soto of Florida, introducing similar legislation to the House of Representatives early this month.