‘Anything for my family’: Venezuelans in US welcome temporary protected status

<span>Photograph: Paula Ramon/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Paula Ramon/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan asylum seekers in the United States have welcomed the news of temporary permission to live and work in the country as a vital “helping hand” after the Biden administration announced that it would extend temporary protected status (TPS) to nearly half a million Venezuelan nationals.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that the TPS extension now includes those who arrived in the US by the end of July, whereas the previous cutoff date was 8 March 2021.

Related: Chicago police investigated over alleged sexual misconduct with asylum seekers

Department officials anticipate that about 472,000 Venezuelans will now become newly eligible for these temporary permissions, while the United Nations estimates that more than 7.3 million people have fled the political and economic crisis in Venezuela in recent years.

Many cross the US-Mexico border and request asylum, ending up in cities to go through the legal process where civic resources get stretched and yet they are not eligible for permission to work and also have relatively few established community contacts.

One Venezuelan in exile from what he described as political persecution, Gerardo Godoy, said the prospect of a work permit makes the harrowing journey he embarked on in April from his home in Maracaibo, Venezuela, worth it.

“I came here to work, to give my family something better, and you start with the small steps. First you crawl, then you walk, and then run,” Godoy, 34, said. He has not been able to get a job since he arrived in the US. “We’re not coming here because it’s pretty, we’re coming here to make a decent living … Having permission to work, without worrying about getting deported, is lending us a helping hand.”

Godoy said he made the difficult decision to leave Venezuela because as a police officer he faced a moral dilemma when his superiors ordered him to use force against protesters desperately demanding higher wages.

Having permission to work, without worrying about getting deported, is lending us a helping hand

Venezuelan Gerardo Godoy

He refused to engage in violence against them and lost his job, he said. A month later, he reached the US border and crossed into Texas to request asylum. He was lucky enough to have a brother in Concord, California, to stay with and took three different buses across the south-west until he reached him.

But without the necessary documentation to work he’s faced rejections left and right, including in construction and in restaurants. He’s determined to support his wife and 12-year-old son who, for now, remain in Venezuela.

On Thursday the homeland security department announced it would also extend TPS to asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The latest moves followed pressure on Biden from Democrats.

A survey by Make the Road New York, the largest progressive grassroots immigrant-led organization in the state, published in June shows that 65% of respondents recently arrived in New York while their asylum applications work their way through the legal system were from Venezuela.

Many lack not just money and access to work but also legal counsel, as they navigate the complicated legal system that just last Friday the White House once again said was “broken” and had been “for decades” while Congress refuses to advance legislation on immigration reform.

“We know that there are also tens of thousands of people who have arrived who are not from Venezuela,” Daniel Altschuler, co-executive director of Make the Road Action, said. “There are other countries experiencing political instability, violence and natural disasters who have people similarly seeking refuge in the United States.

Altschuler and leaders from other immigration groups are encouraging the secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to quickly designate or extend the scope of TPS for several other countries as well.

The New York members of Congress Adriano Espaillat and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had spoken up loudly calling for additional funding for housing and measures to expedite work authorization to new migrants. New York City authorities are now in a legal battle after starting to suspend the city’s unique right to shelter law for some migrants.

Meanwhile, the Make the Road survey showed a staggering 93% of asylum-seeking respondents reported not having secured legal counsel. Language barriers and a chronic and worsening lack of affordable housing in many cities present tough challenges.

“They will be able to work legally with authorization, but let’s be honest and realistic about how much that’s going to really have them be self-sufficient and not necessarily reliant on others for support,” Gemma Solimene, director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic and professor at Fordham University School of Law, said.

For Godoy, once the Federal Register releases eligibility guidelines, he can apply for his work permit and will hope to find work. His next court date for his asylum application is in October – of 2025.

“The backlog now is incredible, even for those individuals that have legitimate and strong claims to asylum,” Solimene said.

Godoy is trying to settle into his new life in northern California.

“Any Venezuelan can tell you how hard it is to leave your family behind and embark on a journey to this country,” he said. “I’m not expecting to get any job I want, even though I was a police officer, but I want the opportunity to work, as a dishwasher, a street cleaner – anything for my family.”