CHICAGO — Thousands of Venezuelan migrants in Chicago will likely be eligible for work authorization and protection from deportation due to a recent move by the federal government.
The Department of Homeland Security extended an existing statute called temporary protected status for Venezuelan nationals who arrived to the U.S. prior to July 31, the agency announced Wednesday.
This means Venezuelans meeting certain criteria will be able to apply for legal work authorization and be protected from removal back to their home country.
The move comes as city and state officials have been pleading for President Joe Biden’s administration to act on expediting work permits for newly arrived migrants in Chicago.
Since last August, more than 13,500 people, most from Central and South America, have arrived in Chicago. Buses are still coming daily. Many asylum seekers are from Venezuela, which has been struggling with an economic crisis that has caused severe food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, widespread unemployment and violent crime.
There are nearly 2,000 migrants being housed in police stations and at O’Hare Airport, and 6,800 in 18 shelters across Chicago.
Officials and immigration experts working closely with migrants said allowing them to work is the city’s way out of the humanitarian crisis. But processing delays and complex eligibility questions have presented barriers for those seeking work permits.
The expansion of temporary protected status will offer short-term relief for many Venezuelans in Chicago, but isn’t the longterm solution many in the immigration field are holding out hope for, one legal expert said.
What Is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?
Temporary protected status was written into law through the Immigration Act of 1990, meant to provide citizens from certain designated countries protection from deportation when it’s considered unsafe for them to return home, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
People can apply for a legal work permit while they have temporary protected status and can request permission to travel outside the country, said Lisa Koop, director of legal services for the National Immigrant Justice Center.
The U.S. first granted 18 months of protected status to Venezuelans in March 2021, meaning people who had fled to the U.S. from Venezuela prior to then were eligible for the temporary protection.
At the time, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas designated Venezuelans as eligible for temporary protected status based on “extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent nationals from returning safely.”
This included a “complex humanitarian crisis marked by widespread hunger and malnutrition, a growing influence and presence of non-state armed groups, repression, and a crumbling infrastructure,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
As of this summer, 7.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country.
But anyone who had arrived to the U.S. from Venezuela after March 8, 2021 were left out of benefits under temporary protected status — until recent moves by the Department of Homeland Security to expand and extend the status.
How Many Venezuelan Citizens Are Eligible For Temporary Protected Status Now?
With Wednesday’s announcement from the Department of Homeland Security, Venezuelans who came to the U.S. prior to July 31 are eligible to apply for temporary protected status.
An additional 472,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. are now eligible for temporary protected status, in addition to the 242,700 Venezuelans who were previously eligible under the existing date limits, according to the department.
However, there are other limitations as to who could be granted temporary protected status.
Issues that could disqualify a person from being granted asylum could keep them from getting temporary protected status, Koop said.
“You also have to show that you don’t have certain criminal convictions. If you’re someone who has persecuted others, if you’ve been involved in terrorist activity — those are the sorts of things that would preclude eligibility for temporary protected status,” she said.
Being convicted of misdemeanor crimes in the U.S. could also disqualify someone from the status, Koop said.
Can Someone Apply For Asylum And TPS?
Koop said she strongly recommends anyone who thinks they may qualify for temporary protected status to apply, even if they’re currently under parole — another form of temporary protection — or considering applying for asylum.
Someone can apply for both asylum and temporary protected status, Koop said.
Legal experts have described applying for asylum as a complicated and drawn-out process that “doesn’t leave room for mistakes,” in which people have to meet a “very high bar” to prove they have a well-founded fear of returning to their home country.
“The asylum process is uncertain, it’s lengthy. In the interim, you may choose to apply for this additional form of relief,” Koop said.
The National Immigrant Justice Center has a website designed to help people determine if they should apply for both asylum and temporary protected status, or just one.
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What Are The Limits To Temporary Protected Status?
This move by the federal government to redesignate temporary protection for Venezuelans will only apply to some of the newly arrived migrants currently in Chicago.
Of the more than 13,500 migrants who have come to Chicago over the past year, people have also come from countries like Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, according to a city portal. They aren’t eligible for temporary protected status under current federal designations.
Many longtime undocumented residents in Chicago are also left out of this recent federal action.
Some immigration activists applauded the move in a news conference Thursday, but repeated calls for the federal government to grant work permits for undocumented folks who have been working in their communities for years.
Also, though temporary protected status grants people work permit eligibility, it’s unclear if it’ll be any faster of a process than it is for people trying to get work permits through asylum or parole, Koop said.
“Unless [the federal government] allocates the necessary resources to adjudicate the employment authorization and the TPS applications pretty quickly, we’re likely to see lengthy delays,” Koop said. “We’re really hopeful that they’re going to be able to pull together the resources and really prioritize these issuance of these employment authorization documents.”
The permit also only lasts as long as the status, meaning the work authorization expires if a person’s protected status expires, Koop said.
One major way temporary protected status differs from something like asylum is ineligibility for permanent legal residence in the U.S., Koop said.
Unlike asylum, temporary protected status doesn’t provide anyone with a pathway to legal citizenship, Koop said.
“If you win asylum, then you do have the ability to apply for your green card and ultimately, citizenship down the line,” Koop said. “So, that’s another reason why we would want Venezuelans who are considering TPS to really be looking at the big picture and considering all of their options.”
Without a longterm plan in place for people to get on a pathway to citizenship, Koop said temporary protected status was somewhat of a “half measure.”
For example, there are citizens from countries like Honduras and Nicaragua who have been granted temporary protected status in the U.S. since 1999, but still don’t have a viable path to citizenship, Koop said.
“There is a significant need for Congress to act and to establish a pathway to residency,” Koop said. “Those individuals have established their lives and they’ve had employment authorization all this time, and they’ve been contributing to their communities. But they’re stuck in a legal limbo.”
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