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The Biden administration is letting hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans apply to stay and work here in the U.S. It's extending temporary protected status to those who fled the political and economic turmoil of their home country. Many of them live in Florida, where NPR's Greg Allen found excitement and also some questions over the move.
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GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In Doral, a Miami suburb, El Arepazo restaurant is known for its arepas, cornmeal griddle cakes. It's also a gas station, a market and a gathering place for Venezuelans like Darlys Arcia. She just heard the news that President Biden was allowing Venezuelans to apply for temporary protected status - TPS.
DARLYS ARCIA: This is so very, very important. I'm so happy for my brothers and sisters in Venezuela.
ALLEN: Arcia is an engineer and a U.S. citizen. She says most of her family left Venezuela over the last two decades, fleeing the regimes, first, of Hugo Chavez and then his successor Nicolas Maduro. Many Venezuelans who came in recent years on student or tourist visas that expired have been stuck in a sort of limbo, unable to work and unable to return safely home. With TPS now available, Arcia says they can apply for Social Security numbers and work authorization.
ARCIA: Most of them are professional, and now we can develop this opportunity with the TPS.
ALLEN: In some ways, the Biden order mirrors one signed by President Trump weeks ago, just before he left office. That Deferred Enforced Departure order said Venezuelans would not be subject to removal from the U.S. for 18 months and they could apply for work permits. That order remains in place. Lea Salama DiMitri, an immigration lawyer and member of the Venezuelan American Bar Association, says the two programs have similar benefits, but TPS may have advantages.
LEA SALAMA DIMITRI: Because in certain states - not all of them, but in certain states - it may be considered a lawful admission to the U.S. And it could allow people to become eligible for other immigration benefits.
ALLEN: The order says only Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. by yesterday, March 8, are eligible. It extends for 18 months but is likely to be renewed as long as economic and political conditions remain dire in Venezuela. TPS has been in place for several other countries now for more than two decades. Salama DiMitri says many of her clients, though, are eager to return to Venezuela if things improve.
DIMITRI: They still have businesses there. They have homes. They have families. I mean, they don't want to be here indefinitely. Many of them don't even want to be here. But, you know, because of the circumstances, they've kind of gotten stuck here.
ALLEN: Like other Venezuelan Americans, Ernesto Ackerman welcomes the TPS order, but he believes it isn't just a humanitarian gesture. Like many Venezuelan Americans, he supported President Trump in the election because of his stance condemning socialism and the Maduro regime. He thinks Biden now is playing catch-up with a small but important voting bloc in Florida.
ERNESTO ACKERMAN: Now they can say that Biden it and not Trump. So this is politics.
ALLEN: Ackerman says neither the Trump nor the Biden orders address what for him remains the most pressing issue - how to restore democracy and economic stability to a country that used to be one of the most prosperous in Latin America.
ACKERMAN: I still don't see in which way this is going to help the Venezuelans, the 20 million Venezuelans that are sequestered by a criminal group in Venezuela.
ALLEN: The Biden administration says it's committed to working with other countries to bring about a negotiated end to the crisis in Venezuela. Ackerman and many other Venezuelans in the U.S., frustrated by years of deadlock, wonder if that's enough.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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