On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced it will expand a program granting temporary work permits and deportation relief to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that he made the decision because conditions in Venezuela “prevent their safe return.” This move could potentially have a huge impact on New York City, which has been grappling with the arrival of over 110,000 migrants in the last year.
Mayorkas’ announcement is as welcome as it is overdue. It is grounded in established law and smart public policy. Allowing some Venezuelan migrants to work will benefit cities, states, and the federal government. It will enable asylum-seekers to become more independent and self-sufficient. Most importantly, it is a practical solution to a real problem.
Under the administration’s plan, Venezuelan nationals who were in the U.S. before July 31 will be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a type of lawful protection extended to people from countries where deportation would be an unsafe or difficult option. This can be due to an armed conflict, environmental disaster, or extraordinary conditions. TPS was created by Congress in the Immigration Act of 1990, which gives the Secretary of Homeland Security discretion to designate when TPS would be applied and for how long.
So, to be clear, Mayorkas is exercising authority granted to him by Congress—in contrast to former presidents who have made controversial immigration moves using executive action.
In practical terms, the TPS expansion means that about 475,000 Venezuelans who have fled the country’s economic and socio-political crisis can apply for work permits right away, and they will not be subject to removal for 18 months.
That’s good news, because Venezuelan asylum-seekers can now seek employment, start paying taxes, and begin contributing to their communities. Instead of being a burden on social service programs in cities like New York and Miami, these migrants can start building their own lives with a measure of stability. This in turn will reduce the strain on taxpayers and city budgets.
In New York City, where about 40 percent of the asylum-seekers the city is paying to house are Venezuelan, Mayor Eric Adams has said that migrants could cost the city $12 billion in the next few years. This figure includes costs for housing, education, and other services. But with TPS, more migrants will be able to provide for themselves and move out of overcrowded city shelters and other facilities.
The expansion of TPS will be especially important in New York, given that the city has been roiled by tensions arising from the migrant crisis. New York City has been running out of places to house migrants, and its efforts to place them in other communities have generated outrage and protests. At times, migrants have resorted to camping out on city streets. With the TPS designation, more of them will be able to pursue productive activities in a city with a labor shortage.
Politically, expanding TPS for Venezuelans shows that the Biden administration is listening to big-city mayors and immigration advocates who had called for this policy. The president generally receives low marks from the public on his handling of immigration overall, and the last thing he needs is to be feuding with leaders of his own party on the issue. Nor does he need a worsening of the migrant crisis in large, Democratic-led cities.
Some people may see the TPS expansion as rewarding illegal behavior, or as a form of amnesty. But applying for asylum is a humanitarian right under U.S. law, and TPS itself is “legal status,” albeit temporary. Applicants for TPS must register with the government, pay a fee, and undergo vetting to ensure they are not a convicted felon or national security threat. TPS is not a path to citizenship or even a green card. It is a narrowly tailored program that can provide a lifeline for people who cannot safely go, or be returned, to their country of origin.
Opponents of any expansion of TPS also say that it will lead to more migrants coming to the U.S. But new arrivals from Venezuela will not be eligible the TPS designation, and they can be deported. Besides, allowing people who are already here to work promotes self-reliance. It encourages people to get off of government programs. Isn’t that what conservatives usually want people to do?
The Biden administration’s TPS expansion will alleviate hardship for Venezuelan migrants and benefit U.S. taxpayers as well. Until Congress stops abdicating its responsibility to act on immigration, this incremental move is a compassionate, necessary step forward.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and contributor to NBC Latino and CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.