By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. will grant temporary deportation relief and access to work permits to nearly half a million Venezuelans already in the country, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, a move that follows calls by Democrats to help newly arrived migrants work legally.
About 472,000 Venezuelans in the U.S. on or before July 31 now will be eligible for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for a period of 18 months. Some 243,000 Venezuelans already have the status stemming from a 2021 designation that was renewed last year.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in 2024, has faced record illegal border crossings, fueled by a sharp rise in recent years of migrants fleeing economic and political turmoil in Venezuela.
Fellow Democrats, most prominently New York City Mayor Eric Adams, have called on Biden to expand work access for newly arrived migrants who have strained local and state resources.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said the expansion of protected status for Venezuelans was warranted due to “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety.”
Frosty diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Venezuela make it difficult for the U.S. to deport Venezuelans to their home country. But a U.S. agreement with Mexico has allowed thousands of non-Mexicans – including Venezuelans – to be deported to Mexico in recent months.
Venezuela’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally dropped in May after the Biden administration rolled out stricter asylum rules, but crossings have rebounded in recent months.
To help free up Border Patrol agents, the Pentagon will send 800 additional active-duty troops to the border on top of 2,500 National Guard troops already deployed, the White House said.
In addition, the Biden administration will expand nationwide a program launched in May to rapidly process migrant families seeking asylum and potentially deport them.
DHS said it would increase the time that work permits are valid for certain immigrants, including asylum-seekers, to five years, to allow the government to focus on processing new applications.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting Kristina Cooke in San Francisco and Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Editing by Sandra Maler and Christopher Cushing)
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