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Venezuelan Migration Crisis Impacts Neighboring Countries

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: As the White House pushes a bill to create a pathway to citizenship here in the U.S., a country in South America has committed to doing something similar. For years, Colombia has faced an immigration crisis of its own. Nearly 2 million Venezuelans have entered the country, escaping economic and political upheaval. Last week the president of Colombia announced that the country will offer temporary legal status to the Venezuelan refugees, allowing them to stay for as long as 10 years. I'm joined now by Betilde Munoz Pogossian. She is director of social inclusion at the Organization of American States. Good to have you with us.

BETILDE MUNOZ-POGOSSIAN: Hi, Ari. Good to be with you.

SHAPIRIO: This crisis has been going on for years. I visited Colombia in 2019 to report on it. So why is the government adopting this position now?

MUNOZ-POGOSSIAN: Actually, the measure approved by the Colombian government is historic and is really unprecedented for - not just for Colombia but for the region. And in the context of this, you know, prolonged humanitarian crisis and migrant and refugee crisis of Venezuelans, it's probably the strongest humanitarian gesture we've seen so far. This is a very positive measure for Colombia to sort of have an orderly and safe migration process for Venezuelans. But it will also be positive for Venezuelans who would have the possibility of having access to a regular state document, access health, contribute to Social Security, have access to education, a decent job, among other things.

SHAPIRIO: Now, you say this is unprecedented for the region, and it is a regional crisis. And so I'm curious whether other countries are following Colombia's lead. Or is this pressuring them to adopt similar policies?

MUNOZ-POGOSSIAN: Well, so far, the countries of the region have responded, in my view, in a very pragmatic and solidary way, you know, considering their own legal frameworks and also fiscal space because, you know, there's always monetary cost associated with giving protection to these large numbers of migrants and refugees in their countries.

And, you know, Peru has provided a similar measure but only lasting two years. In the case of Chile as well as Ecuador, they provided sort of a humanitarian or what they called a democratic responsibility visa in the case of Chile. But none of these top what Colombia has achieved by granting this TPS for Venezuelans. And we're hoping that it will - you know, by setting the standard, other countries will see it as an incentive. The country that may provide something similar is the United States, as promised by the current administration in their campaign program.

SHAPIRIO: There are also many Venezuelan migrants and refugees here in the U.S., and those numbers have grown a lot recently. Former President Trump signed an 18-month protection for them on his last day in office. What do you expect will happen under the Biden administration?

MUNOZ-POGOSSIAN: Well, we think that the next natural step after the DED, or the deferred deportation measure, approved by the previous president would be the approval of the temporary protected status. While DED is definitely a positive step in terms of giving protection to Venezuelans, it is only the protection against being deported. Instead, the TPS would actually grant Venezuelans in the U.S. an immigration benefit, a concrete document that says that they are allowed to stay and they're allowed to work in the U.S., of course, for the number of months that it is approved for.

SHAPIRIO: That's Betilde Munoz-Pogossian of the Organization of American States. Thank you for talking with us.

MUNOZ-POGOSSIAN: Thank you, Ari, for having me on the program. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.