Advertisement

Venezuelans in Tampa Bay welcome order granting them temporary status

Their country in crisis, immigrants now have 18 months to figure out next steps thanks to the Biden administration move.
Journalist Hernan Lugo-Galicia, 52, feared repercussions from the authoritarian government of Venezuela so he fled to the United States. He welcomes the Biden administration's extension of Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan immigrants.
Journalist Hernan Lugo-Galicia, 52, feared repercussions from the authoritarian government of Venezuela so he fled to the United States. He welcomes the Biden administration's extension of Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelan immigrants. [ JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times ]
Published Mar. 11, 2021|Updated Mar. 11, 2021

TAMPA — Hernan Lugo-Galicia had just a few hours to get out of Venezuela.

A journalist who reported on government corruption for the newspaper El Nacional, Lugo-Galicia received word in November 2017 that the government would no longer tolerate his exposés.

“They wanted to silence me and to stop me from doing my job, but I refused,” said Lugo-Galicia, 52, former secretary of the National College of Journalists of Venezuela. “And I paid dearly.”

Lugo-Galicia bought a ticket from Caracas to Miami, applied for asylum, and soon found his way to Tampa to await word on his application.

He’s still waiting. And he faces an uphill battle. But he’s not on pins and needles anymore.

Lugo-Galicia and other Venezuelan immigrants living in the United States got a reprieve of at least 18 months with a White House announcement Monday that they now are eligible to remain here under what’s known as Temporary Protected Status.

“This is going to help us a lot,” Lugo-Galicia said. “We really need it.”

The executive order shields as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States from deportation and will allow them to apply for work authorization.

Congress created Temporary Protective Status in 1990 for immigrants seeking to escape the ravages of war and natural disaster from certain countries in Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean. At least 400,000 immigrants already have the status, including some 250,000 from El Salvador, 80,000 from Honduras and 4,500 from Nicaragua.

Venezuela is torn by economic and political strife, its authoritarian government imposing strong restrictions on freedoms of expression and the press. Once one of the richest nations in Latin America, Venezuela now suffers chronic shortages of food and medicine. An estimated 4 million citizens have left the country and more than 800,000 have sought asylum worldwide.

The Venezuelan immigrant population in the U.S increased by 54 percent between 2015 and 2018, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. In 2018, the total population here was an estimated 394,000.

Venezuelans have 180 days to apply for the new protected status, which runs through September 2022. They must pay $50 for the application and $85 for biometric records, and for those seeking work permits, another $450. They must undergo background checks and show they were in the United States when the measure was announced Monday, March 8.

President Donald Trump had refused to offer protected status to Venezuelan immigrants and continued deporting them. He had also sought to undo protected status for some 400,000 immigrants already covered under the program. But on the day before he left office, Trump delayed the removal of 145,000 Venezuelans through a different humanitarian program known as Deferred Enforced Departure.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Once granted, protected status lasts 18 months and is often renewed automatically. But Biden administration officials stressed that it should not be considered permanent, not a signal to Venezuelans outside the United States to migrate here.

That shouldn’t be a problem judging from the history of the program. A study conducted by the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., found no evidence to suggest that granting Temporary Protected Status increased undocumented immigration, said Tom K. Wong, a senior fellow at the center.

The study focused on program participants from Honduras and Nicaragua in 1999 and El Salvador in 2001.

Temporary Protected Status buys Lugo-Galicia some time as he pursues an asylum application that could go either way.

More than half of asylum applicants from Venezuela are denied on average each year, according to Syracuse University’s TRAC database of federal immigration statistics. Those applying in 2020 numbered about 2,000.

“It has been a major change — leaving your country and your friends is not easy,” Lugo-Galicia said. “But here there is freedom and that is the most important thing. I am not the only one going through this. There are a lot of us; we’re like a big family.”

At a rally outside a Doral restaurant Tuesday, the day after the Biden administration announcement, some two dozen Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans chanted, “We did it!” and “Gracias, Biden!”

John Reyes, 49, top right, was a lawyer when he fled turmoil in Venezuela with his family and moved to Tampa. Top left, son Justin Reyes, 20; bottom from left, daughter, Jhomary Reyes, 27; wife Mary Rincón, 47; and sons John Reyes, 29, and Jeancarlos Reyes, 13.
John Reyes, 49, top right, was a lawyer when he fled turmoil in Venezuela with his family and moved to Tampa. Top left, son Justin Reyes, 20; bottom from left, daughter, Jhomary Reyes, 27; wife Mary Rincón, 47; and sons John Reyes, 29, and Jeancarlos Reyes, 13. [ Courtesy of John Reyes ]

John Reyes of Tampa, who worked as a lawyer in Venezuela and is vice president of Venezuela USA Foundation, a local community group, praised the Biden administration’s decision.

“We are celebrating because for many years, we have been requesting this designation,” said Reyes, 49, who came to the United States with his wife and four children in 2014. “It has been a constant struggle with the insecurity in my country and for those persecuted by the Venezuelan regime.”

Carlos Bohorquez has also known the struggle.

Bohorquez, 37, fled the turmoil in Venezuela for Orlando five years ago and two years later, moved to Tampa. Spanish-speaking fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers know him as the team’s play-by-play broadcast voice.

“We come to work and look for better opportunities,” he said. “With Temporary Protected Status, many doors will open.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.