Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) today blocked a vote to provide Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans living in the United States.

The measure, S. 636, backed by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), would allow Venezuelans in the U.S. to remain and work legally for a renewable period of 18 months. Sen. Lee objected to an effort to pass the bill by unanimous consent and said he and his GOP colleagues needed the chance to review it and propose amendments. The House on Thursday passed a version of the legislation, H.R. 549 (116), with strong Democratic support and the backing of more than three dozen Republicans.

President Donald Trump has moved to phase out TPS enrollment for more than 400,000 people — the bulk of those in the program — but has been blocked by federal courts. In a letter to Durbin earlier this month, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said the administration "continues to monitor the situation in Venezuela." The legislative effort comes as Venezuela grapples with an economic crisis that has led to food and medicine shortages. United Nations officials estimated earlier this year that 7 million Venezuelans — nearly a quarter of the country's population — required humanitarian assistance.

"People are literally starving to death in Venezuela," Durbin said on the Senate floor today. "They have no medicine. It's in the worst possible situation. How can we in good conscience say to these Venezuelans who are in the United States, 'You have to return?'"

The Temporary Protected Status program was established as a temporary immigration status granted to eligible foreign nationals based on armed conflict, natural disasters, and other related catastrophes. In reality, Temporary Protected Status is not “temporary” at all. Instead, it is more of a de facto permanent protection from deportation for foreign nationals in the United States. Before the Trump administration, no one — not a single person — was ever made to leave because their TPS expired.

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Updated: Tue, Aug 13th 2019 @ 1:35pm EDT