The Biden administration’s decision comes as Republicans warn of a new surge of arrivals along the US-Mexico border.
The administration of President Joe Biden has extended temporary legal status to an estimated 472,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, citing “extraordinary” circumstances.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the decision late on Wednesday, saying that “the conditions in their home country prevent their safe return.”
But response over the following day has been divided, as Democrats and Republicans grapple with how best to address the influx of arrivals.
Venezuela has faced a years-long humanitarian crisis, with more than 7.13 million migrants and refugees fleeing the country to escape dire poverty and political repression.
The decision to extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, will allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans already living in the US to apply for work authorisation, a move Democrats hope will alleviate stress on social service programmes.
It also offers protection from deportation, at least temporarily. The latest TPS designation lasts 18 months and applies only to Venezuelans who entered the US before July 31.
Democrats have long pushed for a TPS extension, framing the move as necessary to provide support for both Venezuelans and government services.
New York City, in particular, has been struggling to accommodate arrivals from the US’s southern border with Mexico. According to Mayor Eric Adams, more than 113,300 asylum seekers have come to the city since early 2022, with too few facilities to house them.
Earlier this month, Adams announced an airfield in Brooklyn would be converted into an emergency shelter. He also warned he saw no end to the crisis: “This issue will destroy New York City.”
But on Thursday, New York Democrats hailed Mayorkas’s announcement as a step towards relieving the pressure the city faces.
“This is both the right thing to do morally for those fleeing the Maduro regime and will also provide these individuals with stability and the work authorization they need to contribute to our economy,” Jerrold Nadler, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, said the TPS extension would allow the state to “immediately begin the process of signing people up for work authorization and getting them into jobs so they can become self-sufficient”.
Outside of New York, Democrats likewise framed the TPS announcement as an opportunity.
“This will unify thousands of families, give them legal status and allow them to work to help alleviate Florida’s labor shortage,” Representative Darren Soto of Florida posted on social media.
But Republicans reiterated concerns that the temporary protection would send the wrong message. “This isn’t rocket science. If you incentivize illegal immigration, you will have mass waves of illegal immigrants,” Representative Mark Green wrote on social media on Thursday.
Republicans also pointed to the seven-day “state of disaster” announced this week in the US border city of Eagle Pass, Texas, as evidence of the Biden administration’s failures to curtail immigration.
The mayor of Eagle Pass, Rolando Salinas Jr, told The New York Times that he was compelled to issue the emergency declaration after as many as 2,500 people crossed into the city in a single day.
When questioned about the situation on Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre highlighted other immigration measures announced at the same time as the TPS extension.
They included additional military personnel at the border, expedited removals and escalated efforts to fight smuggling.
“This is an issue that has been around for decades. This is a broken immigration system,” Jean-Pierre said. She also accused Republicans in Congress of undermining Biden’s attempts to address the border crisis.
“The president has done everything and is going to continue to do what he can without the help of some Republicans in Congress to deal with this issue.”
Immigration is set to be a pivotal issue as Biden seeks re-election in 2024.