Temporary protected status critical for Venezuelan asylum seekers

  • The Biden Administration’s decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuela will benefit nearly 500,000 eligible Venezuelans, offering them opportunities to work, rebuild their lives, and integrate into new communities.
  • The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has a broad regional impact, particularly in low and middle-income neighboring countries that are not fully equipped to support large refugee populations. Despite challenges, Colombia has supported 1.7 million Venezuelan refugees.
  • The IRC encourages the Biden Administration to maintain and expand TPS, providing alternative protection pathways for those unable to return home safely.
Read our September 21 statement

What you need to know

Seeking asylum at the United States border is legal—even during a pandemic. People travel to the southern U.S. border to seek refuge, including from political turmoil and rampant violence in Central America. While Trump Administration policies have left behind a broken asylum system, President Joe Biden can take bold action to create a safe, orderly and fair system. Here’s what you need to know.

Who are the people seeking safety at the U.S. border?

Many people are traveling to the U.S. southern border to escape violence in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They are in urgent need of aid and protection.

Gang violence is rampant in the region. Women and girls are specific targets, with violence leveraged as a method to control families with threats, punishments and extortion. It is considered one of the most dangerous regions in the world for women and members of the LGBTQI+ community, with one woman murdered every 6 hours in 2019.

“Fleeing is a dire choice for any family," says Meghan Lopez, regional vice president of the IRC in Latin America. "They are forced to choose between facing certain death or a desperate journey north—protected by other families in the caravan. Yet we know that individuals will not stop fleeing until the root causes of violence are addressed, and military troops or scare-tactics will not dissuade them, because currently there is no place scarier than their homes.”

Why are they heading to the U.S.?

 The U.S. once had a tradition of welcome that offered safety and a new start to people escaping violence and persecution. Although the Trump Administration implemented policies that chipped away at this tradition, U.S. law clearly grants these asylum seekers the right to apply for asylum.

"There’s no way to ask for a visa or any type of authorization in advance for the purpose of seeking asylum,” says the International Rescue Committee’s director of immigration, Olga Byrne. “You just have to show up."

Based on the IRC's experience in the region, the fears of persecution among those fleeing Central America are very real: Current levels of violence in the Northern Triangle are akin to those in the world’s deadliest war zones. Violence in the region goes back generations and permeates every aspect of people’s lives. In El Salvador, for example, the current gang crisis was preceded by earthquakes and a civil war, and prior to that there were repressive military dictatorships and ethnic genocide.

The danger does not end when people flee their homes; the path north is fraught with gang violence similar to what they’ve fled, which is why some asylum seekers travel in groups referred to as “caravans.” Women, girls and the LGBTQI+ community are specific targets of violence, with women and children also at risk of human trafficking.

How did the Trump Administration change the asylum system?

Rather than offering safe haven, the Trump Administration issued policies—often in violation of both U.S. and international law—that blocked people from claiming asylum and created standards that depart from decades of precedent. These new policies made obtaining asylum more difficult in certain cases. They separated families and, through a policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols (or “Remain in Mexico”), forcibly returned asylum seekers—including women and children—to Mexico to wait for their claims to be processed. 

Most recently, the Trump Administration used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to further block asylum seekers at the border. These policies do little to protect the public and in some cases threaten to worsen the U.S.’s public health crisis.

The IRC is concerned that the Supreme Court’s December 27 decision to continue Title 42 will prolong the use of public health justifications as an excuse to deny asylum-seekers their legal right to protection in the U.S. There is no public health rationale for this policy to continue.

Why are asylum seekers being transported to other cities?

The IRC is deeply concerned about ongoing reports that asylum seekers are being transported by state and local governments from U.S. southern border states to cities around the country, often without informed consent, coordination or planning.

Based on the statements of political leaders, these destinations were chosen to maximize public attention. Asylum seekers should not be subject to media stunts.

Government-provided transportation could be a positive and practical component of a safe and orderly system, but it must include key protections and effective collaboration, and ensure the dignity of asylum seekers is respected. Learn more.

What can the Biden Administration do to help asylum seekers?

Through humane and competent action, the Biden Administration can end cruel policies like “Remain in Mexico,” respond to the current humanitarian crisis and address an increase in arrivals at the border—even during a pandemic.

President Biden has already issued a number of Executive Orders impacting asylum seekers at the U.S. border, including one that creates a task force to reunite separated families and others that begin to outline a vision for a humane asylum system and reversal of Trump Administration policies. The IRC has released a step-by-step roadmap to safely protect the rights of asylum seekers and recommends three critical actions in the administrations’ first 100 days:

1. Increase humanitarian assistance to the border, including for COVID-19 prevention. 

2. Reverse the damages of the Trump Administration and use executive actions to restore critical protections to asylum seekers. This should include ending family separation and protecting the rights of children, as well as ending Remain in Mexico.

3. Work to help end the violence and instability in Central America that is causing people to flee. Create more pathways to safety by rebuilding refugee resettlement. 

“This is a matter of political will and policy,” says Byrne, pointing out that the right policies could convince other countries to help confront humanitarian crises. “If the Biden Administration gets it right, the U.S. can credibly urge the international community to step up and share responsibility worldwide. If not, the consequences will be measured in lives lost and in regional and political instability.”

How is the IRC helping?

The IRC provides critical support to asylum seekers on both sides of the U.S. southern border. That includes providing warm meals, clothing, transitional shelter and travel coordination to more than 8,000 asylum seekers released from U.S. government detention since June 2018. We are also working alongside partners to respond to asylum seekers’ urgent needs. 

In Mexico, the IRC is providing support to migrants and asylum seekers from the southern to the northern borders and in between. This support includes prevention and response to gender-based violence; access to critical information through InfoDigna, a multi-channel information platform; prevention and mitigation of COVID-19; economic recovery and development; and child protection services. We also identify needs and refer cases to local service providers where appropriate. For individuals who choose to stay in Mexico, the IRC provides cultural integration support. 

How can I help?

Donate: Support our work helping families caught in crisis around the world. 

Speak out. Tell the Biden Administration and Congress to repair the broken asylum system, reunite families and ensure that the country never again turns its back on people seeking safety. 

El Salvador does not allow people like us: either you are a man or you are a woman. My dream upon arriving in the United States is to find a decent job, to have an income to help my parents.
Fernanda poses for a photo wearing a striped shirt and carrying a purse
At 27 years old, Fernanda Levin was forced to leave behind her parents, siblings and home simply so that she could safely be herself.
Meet Fernanda
My children motivate me to continue. I know that I do this not only for me, but for them, so that they do not have any problems when they grow up, so that they do not live or sleep in fear.
Natalia faces the camera
Natalia and her husband José traveled thousands of miles, sleeping rough on the streets, determined to reach a safe place to raise their children.
Meet Natalia