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NEW YORK – Catholic immigration leaders are calling on the Biden administration to re-designate Venezuela and Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), citing the ongoing humanitarian crises that exist in each country.
Without such a redesignation, Syrian and Venezuelan nationals who arrived in the U.S. after certain dates don’t qualify for TPS. For Syrian nationals to qualify for the program they must have continuous residence in the U.S. since March 19, 2021, and for Venezuelan nationals they must have continuous residence in the U.S. since March 8, 2021.
TPS is a temporary immigration status that allows individuals from certain countries to remain in the U.S. if it is unsafe for them to return to their home country due to an existing humanitarian emergency.
There are approximately 343,000 individuals estimated to be eligible for TPS under Venezuela’s existing TPS designation, which Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas recently extended through March 10, 2024. Catholic immigration leaders, however, also want a redesignation that would make approximately 250,000 more Venezuelan nationals that have arrived in the U.S. after March 8, 2021, eligible for TPS.
The desire was expressed in a July 19 letter to Mayorkas and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken that was signed by Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Migration Committee chair; Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services; and Anna Gallagher, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).
“Unfortunately, conditions [in Venezuela] warranting the original designation are ongoing, with more than 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance,” the letter reads. “Our Catholic partners on the ground confront these challenges on a daily basis.”
The letter cites a Catholic Relief Services research brief from March that Venezuela remains in a state of political instability and economic downturn, meanwhile food security also continues to deteriorate. The brief states that the “prevalence of severe acute malnutrition – the most extreme and dangerous form of malnutrition in children under 5 – has remained critically high.”
The letter also highlights separate March letters sent from members of the House of Representatives and Senate to President Joe Biden and Mayorkas supporting redesignation for Venezuela, and rebukes Biden administration concerns that redesignation will incentivize additional migration to the United States.
“Withholding a redesignation on this basis subjects recent arrivals to poverty, exploitation, and insecurity in the United States,” reads the Catholic immigration leaders’ letter. “For these reasons, we strongly encourage you to redesignate Venezuela for TPS.”
Unlike Venezuela, Syria’s existing TPS designation has not been extended and is scheduled to end on September 30. Therefore, the Catholic immigration leaders are calling on the Biden administration to both extend the current designation for Syrian nationals in the program, and to redesignate Syria to make eligible those that arrived after March 19, 2021.
There are about 7,000 Syrians with TPS in the U.S.
The July 19 letter cites the more than a decade-long civil war in Syria as a reason the extension and redesignation are warranted. Specifically, it highlights that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has intensified dire levels of food insecurity that affects 60 percent of the Syrian population.
“Given these realities, we urge you to extend Syria’s current designation and redesignate the country for TPS prior to the 60-day statutory review deadline of July 31,” the letter reads.
Outside of Venezuela and Syria, the letter expresses “gratitude” to Mayorkas and Blinken for the recent TPS designations of Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Cameroon. It also, however, calls on the Biden administration to “make robust use of TPS including by … designating additional countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disasters and other conditions.”
“As Catholics, we believe wholeheartedly in protecting the sanctity of every human life. This includes addressing situations in which people are needlessly put into harm’s way,” the immigration leaders wrote. “TPS is an important tool provided by Congress to minimize such occurrences. It also ensures that those who are unable to return to their countries of origin can support themselves and their families and make positive contributions to American communities.”
“Consequently, we urge the Administration to make full use of its TPS authority by redesignating Venezuela, extending Syria’s current designation and redesignating the country, and providing protection to nationals of other countries warranting TPS designations,” they continued.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg