Biden may let Venezuelans come to U.S. cities under a ‘Uniting for Ukraine’ type of program

Soldiers from the 161st Engineer Support Company (Airborne) stretch out concertina wire used to secure the existing border fence near the World Trade International Bridge in Laredo, Texas, in 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew S. Valles)


Jeff Gammage

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Oct. 12—The Venezuelan community in Philadelphia is small, officially estimated at only 1,500 people. Now that may be about to change.

The Biden administration is considering a humanitarian program that could grant large numbers of Venezuelans legal entry to the United States, a plan similar to the “Uniting for Ukraine” effort that’s offered haven to up to 100,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war in their homeland.

Millions of Venezuelans have left their country in recent years to escape natural disasters, crime, poverty and political instability, and more than 150,000 were stopped at the U.S. southern border in fiscal 2021.

This proposed program, like the one for Ukraine, would allow family members or sponsors in the United States to host new arrivals — and require them to provide financial support. Uniting for Ukraine effectively ended Ukrainian crossings at the U.S. southern border by offering a defined, legal means for people to enter the United States.

“It would be a win-win, for them being able to come to the U.S. and for the city of Philadelphia,” said Emilio Buitrago, a co-founder of Casa de Venezuela, a Philadelphia organization that’s become a refuge for Venezuelans seeking relief from political and economic crises. “You’ll get people legally into the U.S., and those people will fill the many vacancies we have in the workforce.”

Venezuelan immigrants tend to be highly educated. About 65% of those 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Pew Research Center, compared to 38% of the overall U.S. population.

“They are highly qualified people, and very hardworking,” Buitrago said. “They’re coming here to work, to have an opportunity to uplift their families.”

The Biden administration would admit Venezuelans under what’s called “humanitarian parole,” which is permission to enter the country, not an immigration classification.

It allows for fast entry, and was used to admit most of 76,000 Afghan war allies who were brought to the U.S., including about 5,000 who settled in the Philadelphia region. The administration this year offered the same to Ukrainians under “Uniting for Ukraine,” and local Ukrainian American leaders estimate that more than 10,000 have come to this area.

The problem is humanitarian parole provides no automatic right to the housing, medical, job, and social benefits that go to official refugees. Nor does it offer a clear path to permanent residency or citizenship.

“There should be a program for people from Venezuela as there was for people from Ukraine — and, the U.S. should set that up for other people who are coming into the U.S, like Haitians,” said Peter Pedemonti, co-director of New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an immigrant-justice organization.

Requiring Venezuelan migrants to have U.S. sponsors, he said, shifts cost and responsibility off the U.S. government and onto friends and family members in this country.

“If you’re going to call something humanitarian, it should be humanitarian,” he said.

Venezuela is roughly twice the size of California, home to about 30 million people and known for its vast oil reserves. The United States Institute of Peace, a national nonpartisan organization, says the country is in the midst of “an unprecedented social and humanitarian collapse” that’s created a huge migration crisis.

In the last decade, Venezuelans have experienced sharp declines in their economic welfare, battered by high inflation, rising corruption, and political persecution that’s caused an estimated 5.1 million people to leave, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.

At the same time, the number of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States has surged, making them the fifth-largest South American immigrant population in the United States, according to MPI. An estimated 480,000 Venezuelans live in the United States today.

Census records estimate that about 1,500 Venezuelans live in Philadelphia. Buitrago believes the true number is closer to 12,000 people, spread from Chester County to South Jersey.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Staff writer Dylan Purcell contributed to this article.

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