September 16, 2020

Senate Republicans Again Block Menendez Effort to Designate Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status

WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor after Senate Republicans blocked a unanimous consent (UC) request to immediately approve the House-passed Venezuela TPS Act of 2019. Menendez was joined on the Senate Floor by Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). This is the fourth time that Senate Republicans block the legislation to provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for approximately 200,000 eligible Venezuelans that currently reside in the United States and are at risk of deportation.

“In Maduro’s Venezuela, families struggle to feed themselves. Children tragically die of treatable diseases. More than half of all Venezuelan doctors have fled the country. And 40 percent of hospitals lack electricity and 70 percent lack regular access to water. But Senate Republicans want to leave Venezuelans in the United States at risk of deportation back to Maduro’s nightmare rather than take action,” Menendez said, in a speech where he promised to keep exposing those who refuse to support the victims of the Maduro regime. “Every time my Republican colleagues want to stop our nation from ultimately making progress, we’ve had to shame them into submission.  This is no different. I am not going to stop until the United States truly stands in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.”

Earlier today, the United Nations published a report that determined Maduro’s use of extrajudicial killings and torture amount to crimes against humanity. This only underscores further the need to provide protections to the victims of the Maduro regime by granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans fleeing the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in their home country.

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Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s full remarks as delivered:

Mr. President, we are here today to once again join Senator Durbin — who has been on the floor with me or I with him I don’t know how many times now as it relates to this issue — we are here to urge the Senate to immediately approve legislation that would designate Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Some 200,000 Venezuelans that are currently living in the United States. They are unable to return home safely, and they would benefit from TPS. We should be doing the right thing. We should be upholding American values and offer them protection.

But once again our Republican colleagues have blocked our efforts. We know what’s at stake.

Venezuela continues to experience the worst humanitarian crisis in our hemisphere. Its people continue to suffer food and medicine shortages, levels of criminal violence akin to a conflict zone, and grave human rights abuses under the Maduro regime. 

And as if that were not enough, Venezuelans also face the alarming spread of COVID-19 with a public health system in ruins.

For seven years, Maduro’s devastating abuses against the Venezuelan people have left them with little choice but to stay and suffer or flee and have a chance at surviving. Flee the political persecution. Flee the oppression. 

In Maduro’s Venezuela, families struggle to feed themselves. Children tragically die of treatable diseases. More than half of all Venezuelan doctors have fled the country. And 40 percent of hospitals lack electricity and 70 percent lack regular access to water.

But Senate Republicans want to leave Venezuelans in the United States at risk of deportation back to Maduro’s nightmare rather than take action. 

Meanwhile the Maduro regime is using the spread of COVID-19 to tighten further its control.

Last month, Human Rights Watch reported that dozens of journalists, healthcare workers, human rights lawyers, and political opponents have been detained or prosecuted for merely criticizing or questioning the regime’s official statistics on the pandemic. 

Take the case of Iván Virgüez, a 65-year-old human rights attorney, who had expressed concern on Facebook about “quarantine centers” set up by the regime.

In response, police officers handcuffed him to a metal tube in a prison yard under the sun for two hours and left him without access to the bathroom for over a day, causing him to become sick with bladder pain. 

Iván remains under house arrest and without access to his criminal file and no due process.

And just today as Senator Durbin said, the United Nations released a report finding that Maduro’s years-long campaign of extrajudicial killings and torture amounts to crime against humanity.

Las Naciones Unidas hoy hizo un reporte diciendo que los años de campaña abajo de Maduro son crímenes contra la humanidad. 

But President Trump and Senate Republicans refuse to provide humanitarian protection to Venezuelans in the United States.

The extraordinary conditions in Venezuela have forced more than five million Venezuelans to flee their country in search of protection. 

Last year, I traveled to Cucuta—the border city between Colombia and Venezuela — and saw for myself the thousands of refugees and migrants who cross every day.

I will never forget their stories; stories of heartbreak and suffering from people leaving everything they have ever known — their homes, their loved ones — behind in an attempt to survive. 

We have applauded Venezuela’s neighbors, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, for welcoming Venezuelan refugees and migrants despite having far fewer resources than the United States.

Yet the Trump administration has failed to ensure America lives up to its history as a beacon of freedom and hope around the world. 

Today, many Venezuelans in the United States who would be eligible for TPS are stuck in immigration detention. The Trump administration and the Republican-led Senate have failed to grant them TPS, leaving them facing uncertainty and fear of deportation.

Many others who have come — Venezuelans who have come to seek political asylum have been turned back and deported back to countries like Mexico with all the risks that those border cities present, not even given a chance to make their political asylum claim. 

Make no mistake — the Trump administration has all the authority it needs to designate Venezuela immediately. It doesn’t need this legislation. But the President has chosen not to.

That’s why we introduced legislation that would grant TPS to our Venezuelan brothers and sisters. The House already passed a similar bill. I have had other issues here in the Senate where I have had to do this before, and I’ll do it again. I am not going to relent in our effort to grant Venezuelans the protections they deserve. Every time my Republican colleagues want to stop our nation from ultimately making progress, we’ve had to shame them into submission. 

This is no different. I am not going to stop until the United States truly stands in solidarity with the Venezuelan people. If you don’t want to give them TPS, let them make their claim for political asylum. But then you take them and turn them away before they can make their claims for political asylum. And we know there is a good case for political asylum coming out of Venezuela.

We’ve had colleagues in the past — Senator Scott from Florida — has come and objected to our TPS proposal for Venezuelans, suggesting that we have to change all of TPS because it has become more than a “Temporary” Protected Status. 

Well guess what? The 9th Circuit court actually made a decision which I disagree with, but we call attention to the action that comes on the heels of a disappointing 9th Circuit decision issued on Monday that held up the Trump administration’s cruel efforts to strip protections from over 300,000 current TPS holders is permissible.

There goes the argument that TPS is permanent. No — the President could have granted it, and he could end it when he feels the conditions in Venezuela no longer should give the opportunity for Venezuelans to continue to have Temporary Protected Status, so that argument is out of the way. 

As you heard — debate this in the Judiciary Committee? You’ve had over a year since we’ve started this to debate it.

You’re the majority. You control the Committee. You control the Subcommittee. You could have had the debates. 

We don’t come to the floor lightly to seek Unanimous Consent. We do it after waiting a considered time for the debates to take place — the debates you said you wanted. But they haven’t come.

These are people living, working, and raising families legally in the United States — and from Venezuelan backgrounds — and yet the President is doing everything he can to line them up for deportation.

Of those at risk are 130,000 essential workers who have sacrificed their health during this pandemic to ensure all Americans have access to health care, food, and basic necessities. 

The administration’s efforts are also endangering over 273,000 U.S. citizen children who call a TPS holder “mom” or “dad.” That’s right. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, this administration wants to deport the parents of hundreds of thousands of American children or force these families to relocate their children to unstable, wholly unfamiliar countries.

This callous disregard for TPS holders and the greater immigrant community has to stop.  

We shouldn’t wait for the 9th Circuit decision to be appealed.

We have to create a permanent solution for TPS holders who’ve become integral to our communities and deserve a pathway. 

The Senate should take up and not only give TPS but pass the American Dream and Promise Act (HR6) that passed the House with bipartisan support more than a year ago. What are we waiting for? 

Los venezolanos se merecen el TPS ahora. No debemos esperar. 

 

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