After Temporary Protected Status was granted to Venezuelans last month by the Secretary of Homeland Security, those in South Florida had mixed, but increasingly positive, feelings toward President Joe Biden and his administration.
The newly designated TPS will provide legal protection to an estimated 323,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Unlike asylum seekers, TPS recipients do not need to provide a reason for their status. The only condition for Venezuelans to receive TPS is that they were present in the U.S. before the designation date of March 9.
During the presidential election season, many Venezuelan voters and non-voters favored former President Donald Trump over fears that Biden’s political agenda was too socialist. With the political unrest in Venezuela, many feared the possibility of reliving those events here.
Yovexis Linares, 53, is a Venezuelan immigrant from Maracay living in Doral. She immigrated 18 months ago to flee from the political and economic crisis in her home country.
“I did not like Biden at any moment during the election, because he’s a socialist,” she said. “He started his presidency making too many changes and that brings me a lot of memories from my country. They always start like that, changing everything slowly and people don’t think anything of it, but then you start to realize, we are living in a socialist country.”
Nonetheless, now that the Biden administration has granted TPS to Venezuelans, she feels gratitude towards him.
Carlos Diaz, 42, is an immigrant from Valencia who is applying for TPS. He left Venezuela with his family three years ago in order to give his young daughters a better quality of life.
Diaz does not view President Biden as a socialist. He agrees with President Biden’s policies but believes he is too old to be president of the United States. However, with the security of TPS, he feels supportive of President Biden.
“If I could vote, I would support him not only for his effort to help Venezuelans, but all immigrants,” said Diaz. “We are very happy; we feel safe here. My daughters are getting a good education, they have learned English. They’re very happy.”
Carlos Luis Oñate, 34, is a Venezuelan immigrant who originally fled as an asylum seeker six years ago. He said he left due to political persecution and direct attacks on his family.
“For Venezuelans who are in the same situation as me, it’s not that we don’t have legal status in the U.S, we don’t have legal status anywhere in the world — not even in Venezuela,” said Oñate. “There is no way for us to have valid documents, ID’s or passports from Venezuela, we have no government there.”
During the presidential campaign, he was supportive of Biden, but at times he did not feel confident in his abilities.
“I saw Joe Biden as a respectable figure, and if President Obama chose him to be his vice president, it must have been for a good reason,” said Oñate. “But during his election campaign, he gave me a lot of doubts. I did not think he would be able to win.”
Oñate said many Venezuelans fear socialism, but he believes there are greater things to be concerned about that are more disruptive to a nation.
“Venezuelans have a phobia of socialism, and with good reason – socialist leaders tend to be destructive of governments,” he said. “But we should also fear other things like racism, authoritarians and leaders who aim to divide a nation.”
FIU Professor Eduardo Gamarra from the Department of Politics and International Relations said studies indicate that Venezuelans have shifted towards Republican presidential candidates since 2016.
“A recent study by Carlos Osio concluded the shift of non-Cuban Latinos toward the Republican party is about a magnitude of 120%, with Cubans being much higher than that,” he said. “In polls that we did in Venezuela, we found that that some of the strongest pro-Trump rhetoric is in Venezuela, not even here in South Florida.”
This is largely due to the fact that Trump’s tactics aimed at addressing Venezuelans directly – which led them to believe the U.S. was going to invade Venezuela and take down the regime. Then there was anti-socialist rhetoric that seemed to sympathized with Venezuelans.
Gamarra also said that Trump’s temporary halt of deportations to Venezuela towards the end of his administration may have influenced this shift
However, he said he has begun to see evidence – post-TPS – of a shift of Venezuelan support towards Democrats and more specifically Biden, but the evidence is largely anecdotal.
“Venezuelans applying for TPS see this as something that the Biden administration promised during the campaign and delivered right away,” he said. “But there is still some confusion about what it means to those who have applied for asylum, who are given a path to citizenship, whereas TPS is only an 18-month status.”
Gamarra said that the Democrats are swaying Venezuelan public opinion through TPS, and they will likely secure greater support by making TPS a stepping-stone towards permanent residence in the country.