President Donald Trump is considering shielding one group of migrants in the U.S. — Venezuelans — as he looks to win a big political prize: Florida.
Florida leaders have been urging Trump to not deport Venezuelans fleeing their economically distressed nation to the United States, with some even ensuring him the move will help him win the all-important battleground state of Florida in 2020, according to two people familiar with the discussions.
Trump officials have been receptive. According to six people, including senators, congressional aides and an administration official, Trump officials are discussing allowing Venezuelans to live and work legally in the United States through one of two existing programs used to protect immigrants who come from nations that are devastated by war or natural disasters.
The move might cut against Trump’s broader immigration record — the president has pushed to end the temporary legal status of other migrant groups in the U.S. and tried to nix legal protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children. But it could boost his political chances in 2020 as Trump works to oust Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro.
Offering such protections would play well with Hispanics in Florida — not just the state’s sizable Venezuelan-American population but like-minded Cuban Americans. It’s a state Trump needs to win a second term. And although he narrowly won Florida in 2016, Trump’s approval rating there has dipped dramatically since.
“It’s good politics,” said a top Florida Republican who talks to the president. “I think it’s going to happen. It makes sense on so many levels.”
Still, the move could anger Trump supporters who backed him in 2016 based on his vows to crack down on immigration by building a wall on the southern border and ending Obama-era programs that protected immigrants from deportation. In the past, immigrants who have fled their native countries and come to the United States are allowed to apply for protected status for 18 months at a time with the option to renew. But critics, including Trump, have argued that immigrants abuse the system by renewing repeatedly for decades, even though they don’t become lawful permanent residents.
Still, Trump relenting on this one issue likely wouldn’t serve as a deal breaker for his backers, given the president’s continued harsh rhetoric and actions on immigration.
Even those who oppose Trump acknowledge that protecting Venezuelans — through either the Temporary Protective Status or Deferred Enforced Departure programs — would be “a smart good political move” for the president as he tries to show he’s not monolithic on the issue of immigration.
Steve Schale, a Floridian who worked for Barack Obama’s campaigns and now backs former vice president Joe Biden, a top Trump rival in the state, said the decision could help Trump win over enough voters to make a difference in a state where races are won and lost on small margins.
“Florida is an incredibly tight state,” he said. “It’s about how you carve out a few points.”
Perhaps no state is more important to Trump than Florida. The nation’s battleground state is home to several Trump resorts, including Mar-a-Lago, where he spends many weekends during the winter — more than 100 days so far since inauguration — and where 29 electoral votes are up for grabs in the 2020 presidential race.
“You can’t win if you’re a Republican without Florida,” said the Republican close to Trump. “And I think the campaign knows it.”