On September 20th, tens of thousands of Venezuelans and immigrant rights advocates celebrated the Biden Administration’s extension and re-designation of temporary protected status (TPS) for Venezuela: approximately 700,000 Venezuelan nationals would be afforded 18-month work permits and protection from deportation.
The next morning, United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led advocacy network in the country, joined in celebrating the victory on Instagram. Given their own history of advocating for protections for DACA recipients and their families, United We Dream understood that achieving protections for such a large population of immigrants was not easy.
The comments would have made you think otherwise.
An overwhelming proportion of the comments under the post were negative. Some expressed frustration that one group of immigrants was “cutting in line” to reap benefits, while Dreamers and their families continued to wait for immigration reform. There was confusion about what is doable by the administration (like TPS) and what is something only Congress can do: provide lawful permanent residence to Dreamers. But boiled down, the crux of these concerns was that Venezuela’s TPS designation felt somehow unfair to other immigrants.
This outlook is not new. As lawmakers and policymakers have pushed to carve out protections for Afghan and Ukrainian refugees and asylum seekers, other immigrant populations, like Palestinians or Central American immigrants don’t feel the same welcome. This piecemeal approach has left certain immigrant populations feeling resentful and cynical toward each other.
Two Perspectives that Underscore the Need for Solidarity
One of us is a Salvadoran Dreamer with TPS who was excited to report the TPS news to several clients who now have access to a new form of relief. The other is a Venezuelan American woman, constantly barraged by negative comments and hatred on social media platforms as I try to educate the public about immigration law and policy.
We were both disappointed by the xenophobic reaction to the TPS news. We sympathize with the plight of so many who have been forced to live in the shadows. But, we cannot allow division. We must harness our anger and make sure it is aimed at those responsible for the injustice: Congress.
Our Immigrant Advocacy Should Not Blame Survivors
Because of Venezuela’s unstable and inhumane government, people have been fleeing. Once the richest South American country, Venezuela fell prey to greedy, corrupt politicians and the current President Nicolás Maduro denies the existing economic crisis while the population suffers from poverty and malnutrition. No wonder more than 7 million Venezuelans have sought refuge around the world.
On its own merits, this context wholly justifies the U.S.’s decision to extend and re-designate TPS for Venezuela. The circumstances in Ukraine and Afghanistan have also merited urgent immigration policies that include TPS or asylum.
Despite frustration around disparate treatment, we cannot fall into the trap of blaming the survivors. The new Venezuelan family in your neighborhood is not the reason that so many immigrants have been living in the shadow for decades. The reason is an unwillingness of Congress to bring our immigration system into this century.
The Fish Rots from the Head
Congress’s inaction is creating a sense of hopelessness within the immigrant community. In fact, the Executive and Judiciary Branch have acknowledged this inaction. President Obama moved to use executive authority to address the plight of Dreamers through the DACA program. And under the Trump Administration, immigrant advocates turned to the courts to combat the illegal use of executive authority, including the Muslim Ban, Death to Asylum Regulations, TPS rescissions, etc.
Dreamers have seen two Democratic administrations, even during terms of control over both houses of Congress, where nothing was accomplished. Most recently during the first two years of the Biden Administration, Dreamers counted on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Nothing passed.
Lack of permanent solutions leaves immigrants rightfully feeling uncertain, and even panicked, about whether they will be protected. It all feels like a zero-sum game, pitting one type of immigrant against another.
We Stick Together, in Celebration and Struggle
We must come together as a community and celebrate one another’s steps toward the American dream we all want to achieve.
But that community should not only be used for celebration, it must be leveraged to enact real change. We need to call on Congress to reject the anti-immigrant H.R. 2, and support universally applicable legislation such as the American Dream and Promise Act. Similar to the law President Reagan signed in 1986, we must fight for legislation that will put aside the differences and classifications based on age, nationality, or reasons for coming to the U.S.
You are allowed to feel disappointed if this latest change doesn’t help your situation. But what you cannot do is provide more ammunition for anti-immigrant restrictionists to pit us against each other. Don’t inadvertently burn a bridge before anyone can cross! Welcome each new positive policy change and keep working together to build a wider bridge to the American Dream.