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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

At 11th hour, Trump took a final stand for Venezuelan freedom

On Tuesday evening, President Trump’s last day in office, the White House released one of his last presidential memoranda in which he granted “Deferred Enforced Departure” to all Venezuelans physically present in the United States as of January 20. This historic and unexpected action protects Venezuelans from deportation and grants us legal employment authorization. After a years-long fight between the Trump administration’s immigration hardliners who wished to keep immigrants both legal and illegal out of America and the foreign policy hardliners who desired to protect those fleeing from the brutal Maduro regime, Trump finally sided with the latter camp.

By protecting Venezuelan immigrants in America, Trump solidified his record as the American president who has done the most to advance the cause of freedom in Venezuela.

Venezuela became one of Trump’s primary foreign policy goals from the very first days in office. My home country was devastated by socialist policies implemented first democratically and then by leaders in power through one rigged election after another.

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With the goal of ending Maduro’s grip on power, his administration sanctioned drug traffickers, human rights violators, financiers, and even Hezbollah terrorists. By the end of Trump’s term, the visas of more than 1,000 criminals were revoked and their assets and those of over 150 organizations were confiscated.

But this was just the beginning. In August 2017, Trump prohibited financial institutions from financially assisting the socialist regime in Venezuela. In May 2018, sanctions were strengthened, banning U.S. citizens from trading the illegal debt issued by Maduro so as to stop investors from supporting corruption and arms purchases to suppress the Venezuelan people.

As hope flourished in Venezuela in January 2019 amid protests after Maduro’s fraudulent election, Trump prohibited imports of Venezuelan oil to the United States to squeeze the regime out of revenue. Not only that, but the assets of CITGO, the Venezuelan government-owned oil affiliate in the United States, were frozen and its profits withheld from going into Maduro’s hands.

Trump’s Justice Department also indicted Maduro and several major regime leaders for conspiring to traffic drugs into America. The U.S. government offers a $10 – 15 million cash reward for the capture or death of each of them. And to target drug trafficking, the main source of revenue for Venezuela’s military leaders, Trump himself announced an anti-drug trafficking operation in the Caribbean Sea which doubled America’s military assets near Venezuela’s coast less than one year ago.

But all the pressure and momentum to overthrow the regime lacked one obvious component: Immigration protections for Venezuelans.

If the U.S. government considers a government so brutal and confirms widespread torture and murder, in addition to lacking freedom of speech and suffering a terrible economic crisis, why would it deport immigrants without criminal records to that country? Venezuela lacks basic water, electricity, food, and medicines. Crime is so prevalent since Chavez first took office that hundreds of thousands have been killed. His regime, and then Maduro’s, directed the torture of many thousands. This led 5 million out of 30 million people in Venezuela to flee, the largest refugee crisis in the world second only to Syria’s.

In other words, socialism has caused devastation in Venezuela that only war has achieved elsewhere.

Now, thanks to Trump’s last-minute executive order, Venezuelans in America can rest easy for the next 18 months that they are legally safeguarded. With the stroke of a pen, Trump protected the roughly 100,000 Venezuelans who lack legal status. Some came on tourist visas and requested asylum only to be denied years later, others waited too long to apply, and many others didn’t clear the high bar to obtain asylum but they stayed without anywhere else to go. His order not just protects them from deportation if they were in the United States as of Wednesday, it also grants legal employment authorization to everyone, including those in temporary visas, potentially benefiting 200,000 to 300,000 Venezuelans.

While this decree lasts for 18 months and doesn’t put anyone on a path to U.S. citizenship, it can and should be renewed while Maduro is in power. Venezuelans, like Cubans and other victims of socialism before us, should also have an easier path to permanent status in America, both because of the risk of returning to Venezuela and because of the love for freedom we have ingrained in our hearts after socialism took away our livelihoods. After all, there’s no better way to build a freer America than embracing those who seek nothing more than freedom itself.

Despite all of Trump’s character flaws and whatever issues we may disagree with him on, Trump’s grant of deferred enforced departure to Venezuelans fulfills his pledge to stand up for the victims of socialist regimes, and leaves us no doubt that he is a staunch opponent of socialism both at home and abroad.

As a Venezuelan, I will always be grateful for that.

Daniel Di Martino is a Venezuelan citizen, economist, Young Voices Openness fellow, and economics PhD student at Columbia University. You can follow him on Twitter here.



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