Milagros Yanez –– That is her name.
Every testimony from an immigrant is unique; every story is very personal and every scenario is different. Milagros’ story was one I felt the responsibility to tell in our battle to bring purposeful immigration reform.
This summer I participated in a round table discussion on Venezuela, led by the United States Senator for Florida, Bill Nelson. Present in the discussion were Venezuelan community leaders of Miami, advocates for Venezuelan asylum seekers and immigrants that shared their testimonies.
There were three things that stood out during the discussion. The first was Milagros’ testimony.
Milagros arrived from Venezuela in the United States when she was seventeen. Her family was one of the thousands of victims affected by a corrupt and ruthless Venezuelan dictatorship. She built her life in South Florida through hard work, earning a degree in marketing from Florida International University and securing stable employment opportunities in the media and real state industries.
She then married an Ecuadorian who managed to outstay his student visa and remain in the United States. However, a year prior that, they had both signed a voluntary removal documents after receiving flawed and insufficient legal counsel. They bought their tickets to leave the United States and return to Venezuela and Ecuador in 2011.
In 2012, both of Milagros’ parents were diagnosed with cancer. In 2012, they won a delay to their removal that would allow them to work in the United States, with the condition of checking in every year with the immigration office in Miramar. They bought a house, settled with their two children, and worked their everyday jobs.
In August of 2017, she went to her yearly check-in with immigration authorities, her first check-in since Donald Trump took office.
Contrary to the past 5 years, her husband’s and her request for an extension was denied, and they would be subject to deportation. An ankle bracelet was placed on an immigrant couple that had never committed a crime.
Her Venezuelan passport had expired for years and it was an odyssey for her to renew her citizenship, making her a de facto stateless individual. She was a hard-working Venezuelan-American immigrant, but on paper, she was a hitch in the system. This status prevented her from being deported back to Venezuela, while her husband would be deported to Ecuador.
She would be deported to a country which she had not lived in for 20 years. Even worse; she would be sent without a passport, which would complicate her travel to Ecuador where she would rebuild her family’s lives.
As a collaborator for The Metric and passionate critic of the immigration crisis in the Americas, I felt obligated to approach Milagros and learn more about her story. When we met, she was as calm as she could be, and she answered all of my intriguing questions with warm-heartedness. We both felt compelled to share her story with the world.
I texted her the day we were supposed to talk. A couple of days later, I was notified that she had begun her deportation process.
The moment I heard this, I was shocked and appalled. There are few words to describe the heart-wrenching feeling of defeat. The worst thing is that there was absolutely nothing I could do to prevent her deportation.
The solution to the unfair and dehumanizing deportation of Milagros was mentioned constantly by the advocates for Venezuelans in the United States––Temporary Protection Status––otherwise known as TPS.
That was the second thing that stood out to me during the discussion. TPS is a policy designated to protect citizens from countries undergoing humanitarian crises. It is considered a “safe-haven” for non-citizens in the United States who are not eligible to gain legal citizenship and for those who fear returning to their native countries because of violence and persecution. The end-goal of TPS is to grant protection from removal to non-citizens from certain countries, in an attempt to alleviate this challenge.
Some of the reasons for which the citizens of a foreign country may be granted TPS are armed conflicts (including civil war), environmental disasters, health epidemics, or any other extraordinary conditions a country might be experiencing. For example, Hurricane Mitch was the cause to provide TPS for citizens of Honduras and Nicaragua. Earthquakes in El Salvador (2001) and Haiti (2011) led the Secretary of Homeland Security to provide TPS designation for them as well.
In theory, the length of TPS may be 6, 12 or 18 months, depending on the situation of the country and its capacity to safely accommodate the beneficiaries sheltered in the United States. In practice, however, for years, TPS was consistently renewed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. The Executive Branch has the power to grant Temporary Protection Status, as well as the faculty to remove it just like it did recently for Honduras and El Salvador.
The constant extensions of TPS challenges the assumption that this policy is “temporary”. Hondurans and Salvadorans, for example, have become immersed in American society, might even have American children and suddenly they are told to leave.
Although the policy is not perfect and brings thousands of beneficiaries legal uncertainty, it does save lives. Trump’s signature on an executive order authorizing the TPS for Venezuela would save thousands of Venezuelans who currently seek asylum. However, just like Senator Nelson wisely repeated to those present in the round table, “elections have consequences.”
This fact remained with with me after the talk I witnessed with Senator Bill Nelson (Fla.)
Regardless of how many letters, public statements or pieces of legislation Senator Nelson tries to push forward, there is little to nothing that he and his allies are able to do in order help Venezuelans. Elections have consequences, and those who are fighting for a more just immigration system do not have the legal power to make an impactful change.
This is not an insinuation or suggestion that come November, all American citizens who are eligible to vote should vote Democrat. However, it is apparent that a just immigration system is a necessity for the modern world that goes beyond party affiliation. Both Democrats and Republicans in Florida are trying to help the plight of Venezuelans, and should be recognized for their efforts.
The American democratic system is complex and by some standards, outdated. Arguably, the Constitution has not undergone major, over-arching reforms since 1879. The structure of government that the Founding Fathers envisioned is now challenged not only by a multi-ethnic American society, but by a globalized and volatile world whose influences shape domestic politics as well.
The decisions taken by legislators on Capitol Hill have an impact on the lives of millions who seek asylum in the United States of America, and in November, the vote of American citizens will impact thousands of families–families whose status is covered under under TPS, DACA, all those currently stuck in the detention system and thousands of families like Milagros’.
It is not about abolishing ICE, it is not about having open borders without restrictions. The significance of the upcoming November elections is fighting for humane immigration laws that guarantee protection for all Americans.