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Venezuelan migrants who are applying for temporary legal status in the US say it offers some relief

MIAMI (AP) — After receiving death threats for openly opposing Venezuela’s socialist government, Víctor Macedo and his wife fled, staying for a time in Spain before coming to the U.S.

For nearly two years, they have lived in Florida with the support of family and friends as they tried to build a better life for their two children.

They are among several hundred thousand Venezuelans living in the U.S. whose lives could change now that President Joe Biden’s administration is offering them temporary legal status making it easier for them to get authorization to work in the U.S.

“We have 18 months of peace of mind, without the fear of being deported. That is the greatest benefit, and the greatest fear,” said Macedo, 38, who dreams of opening a bakery like the one his father had in Venezuela. “We can now begin to earn income as God intended. We no longer depend on the relatives we have here.”

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To qualify for Temporary Protected Status, Venezuelans must have arrived in the U.S. by July 31. Meanwhile, the Biden administration also recently announced it would restart deportation flights to Venezuela for those without authorization to be in the U.S.

Immigration experts and lawyers are urging Venezuelans who qualify to apply for TPS.

“It can provide some kind of security and some stability for people in the meantime while they are here in the United States,” said Ilissa Mira, an immigration attorney at Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

Like many Venezuelans living in the U.S., Macedo and his wife have applied for asylum, but the process is long and does not guarantee success. Between October 2022 and August 2023, immigration judges completed more than 3,800 asylum cases for Venezuelans and nearly a third were denied, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

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Macedo and his wife pray they are approved for TPS while they wait. Protected status not only makes it easier to work but suspends deportation until an asylum application case is resolved. People seeking asylum can apply for work permits 150 days after submitting an application.

“We will go ahead with both cases,” Macedo said. “They go hand in hand. We have another extra opportunity with TPS for residency and legal status here in the United States.”

At least 7.3 million people have fled Venezuela in the past decade during political, economic and humanitarian crises. Most settled in neighboring countries in Latin America, but many came to the United States in the past three years through the dangerous Darien Gap, a stretch of jungle dividing Colombia and Panama.

The Department of Homeland Security’s recent announcement of status for 472,000 Venezuelans came on top of more than 242,000 who were previously covered under TPS grants in 2021 and 2022. In the past 11 months, U.S. Border Patrol agents had more than 199,500 encounters with Venezuelans at the southern border, compared with 2,700 in all of 2020.

Macedo and his wife, Ana Merino, left Venezuela in 2016 after Merino was confronted by two men for refusing to donate to a political campaign of ruling party candidates. One of the men struck Merino in the face and she lost a pregnancy the next day, while Macedo also received death threats for not supporting the government’s candidates, he said.

They initially came to the U.S. but were deterred by the long asylum process and went to Spain, which is home to a large Venezuelan community. But Macedo said he was threatened there by the same groups that persecuted him in his home country. The family flew to Mexico, then crossed the Rio Grande to enter the U.S. with Macedo carrying his 3-year-old daughter on his shoulders. His wife was helped by their 11-year-old son, who saved her from drowning.

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Like Macedo, Venezuelan Deisy Mori and her family crossed the border illegally, surrendered to U.S. authorities and requested asylum. They also are seeking Temporary Protected Status.

They left Venezuela five years ago after paramilitary forces entered their home and threatened to kill them for participating in street demonstrations demanding freedom of expression and free elections. Mori said she was imprisoned for several days. Her husband was hospitalized with injuries.

They first went to Ecuador, but did not feel safe there. They crossed six countries by foot and used horses, buses and boats to get to the U.S. with their 7-year-old daughter in August 2021.

“It was worth it, that suffering, that fear, that terror, that agony,” said the 41-years-old woman, who worked as an assistant at a multinational company in Venezuela. TPS “is a guarantee that you have status and will not be deported.”

Not everyone seeking TPS has crossed into the U.S. illegally.

Caren Añez, a 40-year-old single mother, came using a tourist visa in June. Añez, an independent reporter working for a Venezuelan news site, feared being arrested for covering the news in Maracaibo and decided to explore opportunities in the U.S.

She and her 10-year-old son stayed with her aunt in Orlando, Florida. She left behind her 13-year-old twins while trying to find sponsors to apply for humanitarian parole, one of the legal paths Venezuelans have used to enter the U.S. Her family said they already had sponsored other people, so she was considering an asylum request.

“Going back to Venezuela is not an option,” Añez said. “I have never imagine that I would have such a good luck to meet the requirements for TPS.”