Trump Tries to Win the Vote of U.S. Citizens Who Fled Communism by Exploiting Their Trauma

Photo courtesy of Jose Caruci/AFP

As the U.S. election gets closer, both candidates try to appeal to certain populations at all costs in an attempt to win their votes. For Latinx communities, this is one of the few times they are not treated as a monolith. Because of the diversity of political tendencies among Latinx people, it is not convenient to address them as a voting bloc — they are nowhere near being one.

President Trump’s strategy has been to revive the red scare era among recent Latin American immigrants who have fled communist regimes. He knows he has no way to win a percentage of the Latinx vote other than exploiting these refugees’ trauma and making empty promises to them.

Latin American victims of communism who now live in the U.S. are highly concentrated in Florida, which is why (for the most part) the vote of a Latinx/a/o person living in Los Angeles tends to be drastically different from that of a Latinx/a/o person in Miami. Within the swing-state, Venezuelan-American, Cuban-American, and Nicaraguan-American voters are Trump’s main targets.

The use of the word “voters” to describe them is very intentional. Time after time, the Republican Party has shown their indifference to Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan immigrants’ lives — unless they are eligible to vote. Thanks to the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico,” 7,700 Cubans, 2,000 Venezuelans, and 1,400 Nicaraguans are part of an estimate of 60,000 asylum seekers who have had to “spend months in cartel-controlled border cities while they wait for immigration hearings they’re set up to lose.”

When it comes to Cuban immigrants, deportation numbers increased over seven times in just two years of the Trump administration. It has also become more difficult for those who want to apply to the Cuban Adjustment Act. Given that they need to enter the country legally, the Trump administration’s order to decrease visas and visa validity for Cubans to three months with a single entry has prevented many of them from doing so.

The Trump administration has also been trying to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of Nicaraguans who have lived in the U.S. for about 20 years. 

Following the first White House announcement in November of 2017, TPS beneficiaries filed a lawsuit — Ramos v. Nielsen — that challenged the program’s termination by providing evidence of racist motives from the Trump administration. On September 14 of this year, the 9th Circuit Court in the Ramos lawsuit ruled that Trump can move forward to de-document hundreds of thousands of families with TPS status from four countries, including Nicaragua. 

Nicaragua first obtained Temporary Protected Status in January of 1999, after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch. However, TPS designation is not only based on environmental disaster grounds. The temporary immigration status may be given to any population due to ongoing armed conflicts or other extraordinary and temporary conditions in their country. Even though the White House has denounced the “violent response by the government of Nicaragua to the protests that began on April 18, 2018,” Trump’s decision to deport Nicaraguans with TPS has not changed. 

Unfortunately, Venezuelans have been treated in a similar way. On July 25 of 2019, the Venezuelan TPS Act of 2019 passed in the House of Representatives. The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2019, or H.R. 549, would automatically designate eligible Venezuelans for TPS for an initial period of 18 months, with the option of renewal. Although this was a bipartisan bill, only 39 (out of 197) Republicans joined Democrats to support this legislation.

Ever since the House of Representatives passed the Venezuelan TPS Act of 2019, Senate Republicans have blocked it from advancing any further. Even the president of the United States has the power to extend Temporary Protection Status with an executive order, but President Trump has chosen not to. Several senators have previously sent letters to the White House and asked him to grant TPS for Venezuelans, getting little to no response. 

Last year, when 24 senators sent the first letter, which urged the president to take action, the only Republican who joined these efforts was Senator Marco Rubio. The White House forwarded their message to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In the DHS response, the acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Ken Cuccinelli, disregarded the request. “As it relates to Venezuela, the U.S. Government continues to monitor the situation in Venezuela,” he wrote.

Earlier this year, Senators Harris, Menendez, Durbin, and Schumer sent President Trump another letter, which began by stating their “heightened concern about the number of individuals who have fled Venezuela’s political, economic, and humanitarian crisis and are in urgent need of protection in the United States.” 

“As the people of Venezuela continue to suffer political oppression and economic deprivation at the hands of Nicolas Maduro’s regime, they now also face the alarming spread of the COVID-19 pandemic with a public health system in ruins. To that end, we again urge your Administration to immediately provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible Venezuelans who are not able to return safely to their country,” the senators said.

Last month, Senators Whip Dick Durbin, Bob Menendez, and Chris Van Hollen made a unanimous consent request to immediately pass the Venezuela TPS Act of 2019. Once again, U.S. Senator John Thune (R-SD) objected on behalf of Senate Republicans.

“This Administration can grant TPS without Congressional action, but it refuses. Senate Republicans could pass the bipartisan house bill to grant Venezuela TPS. They refuse as well. Let it be clear: the real failure to help Venezuelans in the United States rests on their shoulders,” Durbin said.

Conservative politicians seem to show compassion for Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans as long as they remain far away from the U.S. Despite Donald Trump’s superficial and (merely) vocal support to Venezuelan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan communities, his party and administration continue to ignore the needs of these displaced populations.