Life in limbo: The uncertainty of Venezuelans without a valid passport in the U.S.
Nastacha Hernandez’s father died without her being able to say goodbye.
Like many Venezuelans in the United States, Hernandez could not renew her passport in the middle of a crisis intensified by the rupture of relations between the two countries.
“I feel frustrated, with anger and pain,” said Hernandez, who had not seen her father for six years when he fell into intensive care.
Many Venezuelans are trapped in the “limbo” created after the rupture of diplomatic relations between the two countries and pinned hopes on the rise of a group of soldiers against the Maduro government on Tuesday.
“I have a lot of faith, because for the first time in 20 years, we have the view of the international community in Venezuela,” Maria Eugenia Montilla, who accompanied her daughter to protest in front of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington D.C., told AFP.
Her daughter, Karla Monagas, 27, had to leave the country for her participation in the 2014 protests. She currently lives in Maryland, but her expired passport threatens her immigration status.
“My best option now is that before my visa expires a judge grants the interview and they can review my case,” Karla told AFP. Like her mother, she wore a Venezuelan flag in the form of a cape.
But if that does not happen, she may remain undocumented.
– “One of the strongest things there is” –
A little more than three months ago, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro broke ties with the United States, after the Donald Trump government recognized Juan Guaidó as interim president. Since then, the situation of Venezuelans in the United States has become more complicated.
The Venezuelan consulates in the United States closed, and Maduro has not yet designated a country that looks after their interests, as did the U.S., which delegated the mandate to Switzerland.
“Not to say goodbye to your dad is one of the strongest things there is,” said a 39-year-old woman, who asked to be identified as María for fear of reprisals, and who went through the same tragedy as Nastacha Hernández. His father died in Venezuela in September 2018.
“I could not go to say my last goodbye for lack of a passport,” she said.
And in the midst of this drama arise groups that charge up to $1,000 for an extension of the passport, which is nothing more than a sticker that extends its validity for two years.
Venezuela is going through the worst crisis in its modern history and, since 2015, almost 3 million Venezuelans have emigrated in search of better living conditions.
It is estimated that there are between 400,000 and 600,000 in the United States, according to U.S. surveys and data from the Guaidó delegation. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, more than 72,000 Venezuelans have sought asylum in the United States.
Maduro feels “contempt” for Venezuelans abroad, suggested Francisco Marquez, who was one of the so-called political prisoners.
“They see every person who is outside as an enemy of the regime,” he said.
– “Months have passed, and I still cry” –
Guaidó, recognized as interim president by some 50 countries, appointed as his ambassador in Washington Carlos Vecchio, who until now has not been able to reopen the consular network.
“They took passports, extensions, money and liaison systems with Venezuela, and our job is to reopen the consulates to the services of all Venezuelans,” Vecchio wrote at the end of February on Twitter.
The Guaidó delegation took the consulate in New York, but in Washington the headquarters are still occupied by pro-Maduro activists.
AFP visited this four-story building located in the elegant neighborhood of Georgetown and found that the offices seem to have been abandoned with haste, although many of the hard disks of the computers were extracted and the filing cabinets were emptied.
Stacks of passports were piled up on desks.
“The Maduro regime dismantled and closed the entire consular network of Venezuela in the United States and some other countries,” Gustavo Marcano, minister counselor of the Guaidó delegation in the United States, told AFP.
“Obviously, the regime was not interested in providing any consular service because, there are millions of Venezuelans who have had to emigrate,” he said.
Eleven countries in Latin America — Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay — accept the entry of Venezuelans with expired passports.
The United States has not announced a similar measure so far. There is a project in the Senate to protect Venezuelan migrants under the form of temporary protection status (TPS) that protects people from countries suffering from conflict or humanitarian crisis.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelans stuck in legal limbo in the United States count the days for their uncertainty to be resolved.
“Months have passed and I still cry,” María said. “If someday I return to Venezuela — it will not be to live there but to visit — and my first stop will be to see my father’s ashes.”
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