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House, Senate committees advance bills on Venezuela

LUIS ALONSO LUGO
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People line the street with their vehicles as they wait to fill up with gas at a fuel station, top right, in Cabimas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. U.S. sanctions on oil-rich Venezuela appear to be taking hold, resulting in mile-long lines for fuel in the South American nation’s second-largest city, Maracaibo. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two committees in the U.S. Congress advanced bills related to Venezuela on Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee passed a measure that seeks to protect Venezuelan citizens currently living in the United States from deportation by granting them temporary protected status. The legislation, approved 20-9, now moves forward to be considered by the full House.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, approved a bipartisan bill that seeks to accelerate planning at international financial institutions for Venezuela's reconstruction.

At the House hearing, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the senior Republican on the committee, said the Department of Homeland Security estimates there are 270,000 Venezuelan nationals currently in the U.S. and 123,000 of them do not have authorization from immigration authorities.

A corresponding TPS bill was introduced in the Senate. A group of 23 Democratic senators and Republican Marco Rubio of Florida sent a letter in March to President Donald Trump asking him to give the protection to Venezuelans in the U.S.

TPS is granted to people from countries ravaged by natural disasters or war and lets them remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home. About 300,000 people have received those protections.

But the Trump administration has moved to discontinue that specific protection for many countries and it has not publicly addressed the possibility of conceding TPS to Venezuelans.

"We requested asylum three years ago and have not received a response yet. We need another option such as TPS," Venezuelan migrant Ricardo Calleja told The Associated Press.

Calleja, who attended the House hearing, left Venezuela for Baltimore in 2016 with his wife and two young sons.

In the Senate, the measure adopted Wednesday would authorize $400 million in new humanitarian assistance and formally recognize and support efforts by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to restore democracy.

The VERDAD Act was amended to include three bills approved in March by the House of Representatives to expand U.S. humanitarian assistance in Venezuela, prohibit U.S. arm sales to the government of President Nicolás Maduro, and counter Russia's presence and influence in the South American country.

The legislation now moves forward to be considered by the full Senate.

Rubio and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey called the proposal the most comprehensive legislative effort to date to confront the crisis in Venezuela.

The governments of the United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, saying they consider Maduro's re-election last year fraudulent because strong opposition candidates were prevented from running.

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Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo