Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Venezuela
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Greetings to everyone from the National Security Council. My name is [senior administration official], and on behalf of the NSC press team, I would like to welcome our participants to an on-background conference call to discuss Venezuela.
Today, we are joined by [senior administration official], as well as [senior administration official]. We will begin with remarks from [senior administration official], and then from [senior administration official]. Then we will open it up for a question-and-answer session. As a reminder, today's briefing will be on background, attributable to a "senior administration official," and embargoed until 4:15 p.m. this evening. I know that we mentioned in the invitation that the call contents are embargoed until 4:30, but we'll amend that until 4:15 this afternoon.
And with that, I will turn it over to our first senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, everybody. Thanks for jumping on the phone call. So, the purpose of the call today is really to talk about the decision of the Department of Homeland Security to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans already in the United States. But I want to put this into the context of the President's policies toward Venezuela.
You know, first of all, as a candidate, the President was the first democratic candidate to actually recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and has been very clear that Nicolás Maduro is a dictator and that the May 2018 elections were fraudulent and illegitimate.
His approach to Venezuela has been -- has been fairly clear. Number one, he is going to underscore the importance of supporting the Venezuelan people inside and outside of the country by -- with robust humanitarian assistance, particularly to the countries in the region that have been impacted by the over 5 million Venezuelans that have fled their country.
Number two, he is committed to a robust multilateralism, meaning that we're going to, as an administration, be working to increase the international consensus in favor of free and fair elections in Venezuela, and that we're working with the international community to increase pressure in a coordinated fashion, and making clear that the only outcome of this crisis is a negotiation that leads to a democratic solution.
He has also made clear that -- and directed the administration to focus really on matters of human rights; to combat rampant corruption in the country; to go after every penny that has been stolen from the Venezuelan people by elements of the regime and its supporters; and to ensure that once Venezuela returns to democracy, that the United States is the first country in line to help rebuild. So, as part of that approach, we moved very quickly to grant Temporary Protected Status.
And with that, I want to turn it over to my colleague, "senior official number two."
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, "senior official number one." Hi, everybody. Echoing my colleague's thanks for hopping on the call today. I'm also really delighted to be able to share with you that Secretary Mayorkas has designated Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans.
As "senior official one" just said, it is for an 18-month period in order to qualify. And this is very important: Individuals have to demonstrate continuous residence as of March 8th, 2021. So, by today. If you are arriving tomorrow or any day after, you do not qualify for this TPS designation. So, for those who do qualify and can show that they have been here as of today, they can apply for TPS.
The designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela, which is one of the statutory basis for it. Because of conditions there, it is not safe for Venezuelans to return. TPS is -- also will require people to go through security and background checks. They will have to fill out, of course, the application, which does include a fee. All of this will be in a federal register notice that is going to be made available for public inspection this afternoon. And then we'll go live, if you will, as of tomorrow.
There are an expected -- just to, you know, be upfront about the number -- over 300,000 individuals are estimated to be eligible to file applications for TPS. But again, they have to be people who are already here. We really want to underscore that we very much expect that smugglers and other unscrupulous individuals will be now claiming that the border is open, and that is not the case. So, due to the pandemic and travel and admission restrictions at the border, those all remain in place -- those restrictions.
So, I think, with that, I will turn it back over to our moderator.
MODERATOR: Why don't we go to a line with Carla Angola with EVTV? Please go ahead.
Q: Thank you so much for this opportunity. This question is for a (inaudible) officer number one. It's related to Venezuela, not to the TPS, but it has to be -- I think that Venezuelans need an answer about that. The question is: If you are willing to start a negotiation with the Venezuelan regime through allies', as you say, "international pressure," what are you willing give in, taking into account that, in a negotiation, you always have to give in something? And what would you ask the regime in return? This is my question. Thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Gracias, Carla. Really great to hear from you. So look, just to be clear here that the negotiation is one that is not between the United States and the regime; it is between the illegitimate regime and the interim government of Venezuela. And the outcome is one that needs to lead to free and fair elections.
To be clear though: We've seen negotiations like these fail in the past. We've seen Maduro use them to -- as a delay tactic to centralize power; to polarize the opposition; to -- and to jail opponents; and to use -- crack down on peaceful protesters. So we are very clear-eyed about, really, what the expectations -- what the regime's intentions and incentives are.
The message is clear, and it's been clear since President Biden took office, which is that the United States is going to continue to increase the pressure. It's going to expand that pressure multilaterally to ensure that those that are, you know, guilty of human rights abuses; that are robbing the Venezuelan people; that are engaged in rampant criminal activity really find no quarter anywhere until they sit down to the table in earnest and make decisions that lead toward free and fair elections in the country.
Once that happens, we will, you know, consult with the multi- -- the international community and make decisions about whether sanctions would be lifted. Again, that is something that, you know, we would be in close touch with the interim government.
And, so again, just to repeat: The dialogue is not between us and the regime. It's one where the regime has to sit at the table in good faith, demonstrate confidence in the process, and make decisions that lead to an electoral outcome.
Q: So, hello, I don't know if you can hear me. Hello?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we can.
Q: Okay. Sorry for that. Yeah. This is Rafael Salido from Voice of America. I was wondering, going back to the sanctions: What would you respond to those criticizing the fact that the sanctions are still in place? Because they may even -- well, sorry, that -- the fact that, if you suppress, if you suspend the sanctions, that may make it possible for countries, such as Venezuela and Iran, to go back to business, especially with things regarding with fuel, which is helping the regime getting loads of money. And some of it is going to corrupt ways, let's say. What would be your -- your response to that? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I think what you're asking me is -- for those people that are against lifting sanctions, what --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- what our response would be? Okay.
So, look, I think the first thing I would say is we -- the United States is in no rush to lift sanctions. But let's -- we need to recognize here that the unilateral sanctions, over the last four years, have not succeeded in achieving an electoral outcome in the country. Nowhere in the world have unilateral sanctions actually lead to a democratic transition in the absence of a multilateral and coordinated approach with -- among the international community, which is what the previous administration failed to accomplish.
And so, really, what we're focused on is making sure that we're working very closely and coordinating very closely with the European Union, with our friends and allies in Latin America and the Caribbean to make sure that we're driving a consensus view of how we can be most effective at exerting pressure on the regime. Because, look -- again, unilateral sanctions, the -- what we have clearly seen is that the regime has adapted to sanctions. Oil markets, long ago, have adapted to oil sanctions. And that -- they are able to sustain themselves through illicit flows.
So really the -- we could keep on with unilateral sanctions and stay in this situation for who knows how long. Or, actually, we could start sitting down with the international community to see how we can actually exert coordinated pressure and set clear expectations about the way forward.
That said, we're going to review the sanctions to make sure that they are effective because the focus of sanctions should be to increase pressure on the regime, eliminate any sort of access to corrupt capital to sustain themselves, and -- but also not one to -- that penalizes and punishes unnecessarily the Venezuelan people in the country.
And so we reserve the right to undertake a review of the current (inaudible) regime. But, again, as I said before, there is no rush to lift sanctions, and -- you know, unless the Maduro regime demonstrates that it is ready to sit down at the table and takes measures that demonstrate to the international community, to the Venezuelan interim government that this time is going to be different.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hey, thank you so much for doing the call. Just quickly, for housekeeping, I wanted to know -- I know it's "senior administration official" -- but who "senior official two" was.
And my questions were: How would you respond to some of the, you know, critics who are -- who have always been critical of TPS, who are going to say this is a permanent reprieve, permanent protections?
Also, can you talk a little bit about -- more about the reasons for granting TPS? Under what provision of TPS is this going to be granted? And do you anticipate this will have an impact on political support in South Florida? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. So I am the "administration official number two." My name is [senior administration official].
Q: Thank you (inaudible).
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I have to tell you that my -- no, no, that's -- that's okay. And I have to tell you that my pen literally ran out of ink as you were talking, so I'm so sorry.
But let's start with the -- one question I remember is about the fact that it is really not temporary, that it is permanent. It is worth taking a look of at least 10 countries that have had TPS -- that have had it revoked or ended and terminated. So it is not the case that TPS goes on forever. And I am looking for the list of some of the countries, but I know the American Immigration Council, if you go to their website, has a very complete list.
Secondly, in terms of the question regarding the politics of South Florida: I don't know if the implication is that this is a political call. It is not at all -- the suffering and the ongoing turmoil that the Venezuelan people have endured is well documented. And that's neither Democrat nor Republican; there -- this is based on what the conditions on the ground are.
This designation is due to the extraordinary and temporary conditions in Venezuela that prevent the nationals there, who are here, from returning safely. And this is a complex humanitarian crisis: widespread hunger, malnutrition, growing influence and presence of non-state armed groups, a crumbling infrastructure, and you could go on and on.
So this is an (inaudible), completely nonpartisan, bipartisan decision -- the designation. And I may have missed one of your questions, so my apologies.
Q: No, no, thank -- and thank you. Thank you so much. I think you pretty much got them. I -- could you explain, just to follow up: In 18 months, under what criteria would it be extended? What would you be looking for?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a great question. Honestly, I'm new to government, so I haven't participated in those kinds of assessments. So I can certainly get back to you on what, you know -- upon what it's based.
But, you know, like I said, there have been nearly a dozen countries that had TPS and it was terminated, and then there are others that have had it renewed. So there is well-applied criteria to make that designation for determination.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hello. Thank you for the call. So, first, embargo is 4:30, right?
And (inaudible) question is, there has been -- on the last day in office, President Trump left a DED designation for Venezuela. Is this any part of it? Obviously, TPS is very different. So did that play anything into the process?
And I missed the top part of the call, so if you could go into numbers -- the number of people you think that will benefit from this. This is a very -- a big story, and I think those details have to come up very quickly: what they have to do, when they can start applying, all those things.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. So the -- this is a little unusual in that Venezuelans were given Deferred Enforced Departure based on a January 19th presidential memorandum by then-President Trump. This is a TPS designation for people who are here as of today. TPS is different, in that it is statutory. It is a very firm platform, if you will, for this kind of action, where people will have the opportunity to apply, if they qualify, to get work authorization.
Deferred Enforced Departure is more at the pleasure of a President, generally based on foreign policy matters. And DED has been used by Democrats and Republicans alike over at least the last 40 years, I think.
So it's not to say that it isn't just different in that it is not based on statute, but it's more a presidential decision based on foreign policy considerations.
In terms of the mechanics, the -- there is information in the upcoming Federal Register notice that you'll all be able to read it 4:15 about the DED and how it interplays with TPS. And the individuals who apply for and receive TPS and who are also covered by DED, they'll need to apply for employment authorization documents under both programs.
So people can make their selection, if you will. The cost is the same. You know, we encourage people who believe that they're eligible for TPS to apply for it, but the protection is essentially the same. And this is a bit unusual that you have one country that has both.
And, I'm sorry, you asked me another question, and I've forgotten it -- the number of people, I think.
MODERATOR: We no longer have that line open, unfortunately.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, sorry. I think it was a question about the number of people. There -- of course, these are our estimates, and we will see at the end of the day how many people do come forward, but the number is around 320,000.
MODERATOR: And next, we can go to the line of Beatriz Pascual at EFE. Please go ahead.
Q: Thank you. So I am looking for some practical information or people who are who are thinking about applying. So I wanted to know if you could please specify how much Venezuelans would have to pay, what would be the fee approximately; how long it would take for them to be granted TPS -- how long the process would be; and how they can prove that they have been in the U.S. until today? What type of documents can they give to the authorities? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. I can answer some of those at least. The TPS application is set by statute at $50. There's also a required biometrics fee, that's $85. And then if the work authorization is desired, that's $410. So the total is $545.
In terms of the length of time that processing will take: They have 180 days to apply for TPS. So there's a clock, if you will, to keep in mind as the applicant.
In terms of the turnaround time, I'm afraid I just don't have that information, but can certainly try to get it and give it to you.
And then in terms of the documents that are needed to show physical presence: You know, again, this is well known in the immigrant community, where there had been previous designations of TPS, but certainly anything that's got a date on it -- a bill, anything like school records, an employment pay stub. At times, affidavits, I know, have also been submitted. So I think it's a real range.
And I would just encourage people to get some practical advice from community-based organizations that, again, have done this many times in the past and can just be really careful in steering people so that they get it right the first time, in terms of giving the correct documentation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question. We'll go to Janet Rodriguez with Univision Network. Please go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for having the call. So I want to piggyback on the last question. And you just said they have 180 days to apply for TPS, as of tomorrow?
And then my second question is on the memorandum signed by the last administration: Will that still continue to be in place or do you guys plan on eliminating that -- superseding that memorandum with this TPS order?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, so to your first question, individuals who want TPS have to file an application with USCIS within 180 days. It's a registration period; this is very common with all TPS designations.
And the DED designation is also in place. This isn't a repeal of that. As I explained earlier, TPS is -- has a statutory basis, and so it is another way of being able to provide people protection. And so, it is the option of the person how it is that they want to apply.
But this (inaudible) an expression of this administration's commitment to trying to offer those who are from Venezuela in the U.S. protection under Temporary Protected Status, which, again, is based in statute.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. And thanks to our speakers.
So, as a reminder, the contents of the call today are embargoed until 4:15. Again, that's 4:15 p.m. And thank you so much to our senior administration officials for giving their time and thanks to our participants for their questions.
If you have any questions, please email the NSC Press Team or you can e-mail me. Our e-mail is -- one second. Or I'll give my e-mail. It's [redacted].
Thank you all so much. Have a good day.
Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Venezuela Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/348331