Senators propose bill to let thousands of Venezuelans remain in U.S.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican and Democratic U.S. senators proposed legislation on Thursday that would let an estimated 72,000 Venezuelans remain in the United States after fleeing chaos in their country.

Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menendez introduced the legislation along with Democrats Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy and Cory Booker. It would immediately grant “Temporary Protected Status” to allow Venezuelans who passed security checks to remain in the United States for 18 months.

There was no immediate indication of whether the Senate’s Republican leaders would allow the measure to come up for a vote. The bill’s backers hope that continued uncertainty in Venezuela and President Donald Trump’s support for the opposition movement seeking to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro will ease any resistance.

Trump has generally been an immigration skeptic, and his administration has pushed to end TPS status for other immigrant groups, including Salvadorans, Hondurans and Haitians.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The International Rescue Committee, which urged the Trump administration to provide the TPS designation for Venezuelans earlier this week, has estimated that there are 72,000 Venezuelans currently in the United States who would be allowed to remain and work under the program.

The humanitarian nongovernmental organization has said that more than 3.4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015 as its economic crisis has deepened, and estimated that more than 5 million will be displaced by this time next year.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrat Darren Soto.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; editing by Rosalba O’Brien