24 senators ask Trump to protect Venezuelans, give them TPS status

WASHINGTON — A group of 23 Democratic and one Republican senator asked President Donald Trump on Thursday to protect Venezuelan citizens currently in the United States from deportation, given the crisis rocking the South American country.

The 24 senators, including Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, asked Trump to designate Venezuelans for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Florida’s Marco Rubio was the only Republican in the group.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Trump administration officials have moved to discontinue that specific protection for many countries, but a federal judge extended it last week for people from Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti and El Salvador while a preliminary injunction remains in effect.

Several lawsuits have been filed to avoid the termination of the TPS program.

“Granting TPS to Venezuela is a concrete measure your Administration can immediately take to alleviate the suffering of innocent Venezuelan civilians and to demonstrate our nation’s commitment to supporting a safe democratic transition in Venezuela so that individuals can safely return home soon,” the senators wrote in a letter.

TPS is granted to countries ravaged by natural disasters or war and lets citizens of those countries remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home. About 300,000 people have received those protections.

The economy of the oil-rich nation has shrunk by more than half since 2013, according to International Monetary Fund data. Hyperinflation and shortages of food and other necessities have driven at least 3 million Venezuelans out of their country, according to the United Nations.

The U.S. and more than 50 governments recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president of the country.

They say President Nicolás Maduro wasn’t legitimately re-elected last year because opposition candidates weren’t permitted to run.

The letter comes a week after five senators introduced a bill to immediately grant TPS for eligible Venezuelans.

U.S. Special Envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams told reporters earlier this week: “We have no U.S. Government decision. All I can say is we are aware of the problem.”

This article originally appeared on NBC