Just under half a million Venezuelans – many who arrived in the U.S. through the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso border – will be allowed to remain in the country and work legally for 18 months.

The Biden administration announced the extension and redesignation of Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans late Wednesday just as the number of migrants arriving at the border has significantly increased – overwhelming shelters and leading to the U.S. Border Patrol releasing thousands of people to the streets in some cities.

However, the program applies only to those who arrived in the country before July 31 – about 472,000, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates. That’s in addition to the 242,700 Venezuelans currently under protected status.

Temporary Protected Status is a temporary immigration status granted to people who are unable to return safely to their home countries “due to civil war, natural disaster, or other conditions or circumstances,” the DHS said in a press release. 

Those under TPS cannot be deported or detained on the basis of their immigration status and are eligible for work and travel authorization. The program also waives the monthslong waiting period for the migrants to seek work authorization. The status isn’t automatic, however, and Venezuelans eligible for the protection and authorizations have to apply for them.

Jale, jale, jale!” a group of Venezuelan men outside Sacred Heart Catholic Church in South El Paso shouted to a passing work truck on Thursday. “Work, work, work!”

“That’s what we want, work,” said one 27-year-old who didn’t want to give his  name. “But why only those that got here before July 31? Some of us have been here four weeks but many others just got here this weekend. We shouldn’t be cut off like that.”

The extended protected status was warranted based on “Venezuela’s increased instability and lack of safety due to the enduring humanitarian, security, political, and environmental conditions,” DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a press release. He also emphasized that those who entered the country after July 31 are not protected and would be removed “when they are found to not have a legal basis to stay.”

“There’s just no life there,” said Gonzalo, who was outside a Downtown bus station asking for prices to get to Chicago with his family of four. He said he was short about $200. “We get told to go back to our country, but people don’t know our country, they don’t understand. It’s corrupt, it’s dangerous. You’d be leaving there, too.”

Families from Venezuela and other countries head to lunch at the El Paso Rescue Mission on Thursday. (Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Matters)

Marisa Limón Garza, executive director of Las Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, called the TPS redesignation a “positive step forward,” adding that granting immediate eligibility for employment to those who enter the country through the CBPOne app is a “tremendous improvement.”

“These measures will provide much-needed stability to newly arrived migrants and help relieve communities-at the border and in the interior- doing the essential and humane work of welcome,” she said in a statement.

Others argue the protected status will encourage more Venezuelans to migrate to the United States.

“This news will incentivize even more illegal aliens from Venezuela to come,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, posted on “X,” formerly Twitter, on Thursday. “In the midst of a historic border crisis, this is the last thing our men and women of the Border Patrol need.”

Exodus in Venezuela

More than 7.3 million people have left Venezuela since 2015, the Migration Policy Institute reports. The vast majority have traveled through the treacherous jungle connecting Colombia and Panama known as the Darien Gap, including more than 209,000 from January to August alone. That compares to just over 3,000 between 2010 and 2021, the institute reports.

A Venezuelan migrant and his daughter walk to the dining hall at the El Paso Rescue Mission on Thursday in hopes of receiving lunch. The two had been camping out under a tree around the corner. (Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Matters)

Many of those are making their way to the U.S. through El Paso, and are again straining local nongovernmental shelters, as well as city and county efforts to manage them. That’s especially so because Venezuelans typically arrive in families and without the resources to pay for their stay or travel to their destination city. That means many stay in the area longer, requiring more assistance and often timing out of shelters after a few days.

Because of that, many migrants are sleeping on the sidewalks and alleys even as the city has managed to avoid street releases – when Border Patrol drops off migrants they’ve processed on the streets near bus stations or airports.

“Don’t come here with your cameras, come with food, offer us a job,” one Venezuelan migrant outside of the Rescue Mission of El Paso shouted at El Paso Matters. He said he’s been sleeping on the streets for days with very little food and water. “Come back at night when it’s raining or the wind is blowing. See how it really is out here.”

Mass numbers

While the protected status was welcome news to many, it doesn’t address the increasing numbers of migrants arriving at the border.

The El Paso Border Patrol sector encountered more than 3,500 migrants on Tuesday and Wednesday combined, the city’s migrant dashboard shows. The dashboard also shows over 2,510 migrants in those two days were released to the community – local shelters, the county’s Migrant Support Services Center and the city, which is putting them up in hotels. The city has been sheltering between 700 to 950 migrants in hotels daily the past week as it works to set up an emergency overflow shelter at a recreation center and looks to buy a vacant middle school for a permanent emergency shelter.

A group of Venezuelan families spend the day at Firefighters Memorial Park in Downtown El Paso on Sept. 14. The migrants say they timed-out of a shelter and have had to spend nights on the streets. (Cindy Ramirez / El Paso Mattes)

More than 500 migrants crossed the Rio Grande into El Paso on Monday, lining up along the border wall waiting to turn themselves in to Border Patrol. That came after an estimated 1,000 people arrived in Juarez aboard freight trains on Sunday. On Tuesday, a Mexican railway company temporarily suspended operations of 60 northbound freight trains after an estimated 4,000 people were detected aboard the trains. The company resumed operations on Wednesday.

Increasing border enforcement 

The DHS on Wednesday also announced other actions to increase enforcement across the Southwest border, including deploying additional military personnel to the border.

  • The Department of Defense is deploying another 800 active-duty personnel to assist with logistics and other functions at the border. The DoD had previously deployed 2,500 state National Guard personnel to the border. It was unclear how many new personnel would be assigned to El Paso.
  • DHS has expanded its holding capacity by 3,250 for a total capacity of nearly 23,000. That’s in addition to expansions of several thousand across CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities that were put in place before May.
  • Increase ICE international removal flights by more than double from the first to the second half of the 2023 fiscal year – removing or returning more than 253,000 people to 152 countries since Title 42 was lifted.
  • Significantly scale up the expedited removal of families who do not have a lawful basis to remain in the U.S. within 30 days. The Family Expedited Removal Management program, which launched in May, has processed over 1,600 families.
  • Accelerate employment authorization applications starting Oct. 1 for parolees who scheduled an appointment through the CBP One app by dedicating additional personnel to cut processing time from 90 to 30 days.

Limon Garza of the Las Americas organization said that “doubling down on deterrence” is not the answer.

“Measures such as resources to speed up the adjudication of deportation orders, the expansion of a family removal program nationwide, and the deployment of military personnel to the border will not stop immigrants from seeking safety and a better life in the U.S.,” she said in a statement. 

“Instead, they will only make our failures costlier for American taxpayers and more harmful for immigrants and asylum seekers. We must not continue to rely on deadly enforcement practices that tear families apart and harm vulnerable communities.”

El Paso native Cindy Ramirez has spent most of her career in journalism, with some stints in public and media relations and military reporting. She's covered everything from education to local government...