Thirty-three senators are asking the Biden administration to extend work permits and deportation relief to eligible immigrants from four Central American countries living in the U.S., citing “ongoing” humanitarian needs and the impact of climate change.
In a letter sent Monday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Democrat lawmakers appealed for temporary protected status' renewal for people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and the inclusion of Guatemala to the program popularly known as TPS, which shields beneficiaries from deportation and allows them to work legally in the country.
The senators said they were concerned with the “urgent” crisis Central America is facing, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, back-to-back hurricanes and tropical storms and a severe drought that has worsened food insecurity in the region.
“TPS designations and redesignations would provide critical protections for eligible beneficiaries and enable them to support basic needs of loved ones back home and invest in safer alternatives to regular migration,” they wrote, adding that the measure would also be “consistent” with the administration’s vow to address climate migration.
Among the signatories are Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland, Bob Menéndez of New Jersey, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia and Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The letter mentions the World Food Program’s estimates that Central America is facing its worst dry season in decades and that hunger in those four countries has increased almost fourfold, to nearly 8 million people, in the last couple of years.
“Combined, the effects of the natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly exacerbated food insecurity, violence, and led to rising social tensions,” they stated. “Forced displacement continues to plague the region.”
They also highlighted the importance of remittances — money that immigrants send to support loved ones back home — to those nations’ economic recovery.
TPS status, created by Congress in 1990, allows citizens from nations affected by war and victims of violence or natural disasters to stay in the U.S. The protection was originally conceived as a temporary relief. Although TPS has been extended over the years, it does not provide a path to beneficiaries to apply for citizenship or residency.
The majority of TPS beneficiaries are from El Salvador, followed by Honduras and Haiti. Currently, over 400,000 people residing in the U.S. from 12 countries are protected by TPS.
Most Salvadoran TPS holders live in the Washington, D.C., area.
The program was canceled in 2018 by the Trump administration, which argued that countries that had suffered some kind of natural disaster or conflict had already recovered. The termination has faced many court challenges, and some of them are still pending.
In Sept. 2021, the Biden administration extended protections until Dec. 2022.