Immigrants and their advocates are calling on the Biden administration to grant protections from deportation to Central Americans who have fled their countries due to poverty, violence and catastrophic hurricanes.
In a Thursday press call, immigrant rights groups Alianza Americas and Presente.org urged President Joe Biden to grant a new temporary protected status designation to four Central American countries — Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras — which would allow immigrants from those nations to live and work legally in the U.S. on a temporary basis.
Some immigrants from the latter three countries already have existing TPS status, generally given to refugees of war or disaster, until it is safe to return to their countries. But as of now, it only lasts until October. Guatemalans have no such protection. The immigrant groups are calling for a new designation — rather than an extension or renewal of the existing ones — to allow new applicants from the three countries to seek protection, as well as Guatemalans.
Over the past year, Central Americans have not only had to face the hardship of the COVID-19 crisis, but the region was also severely damaged by deadly hurricanes Eta and Iota last fall, on top of existing long-term crises that include high rates of poverty and violence.
Currently about 195,000 people from El Salvador have temporary protected status in the U.S., as well as some 57,000 people from Honduras and 2,500 from Nicaragua.
Without a new designation, thousands of immigrants from those countries and Guatemala could face deportation to the nations they fled due to economic hardship, violence or climate change.
“I’m asking President Biden to provide TPS status so we can work with dignity without fear of being deported,” Ana Ortiz, an undocumented domestic worker from El Salvador, said in Spanish. The mother of two fled El Salvador due to intimate partner violence and poverty.
The White House and Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last month, the Biden administration granted temporary protected status to tens of thousands of Haitians in the U.S., who can now live and work here legally for at least another year and half.
On the press call Thursday, immigration advocates celebrated the action, and called for Biden to do the same for Central Americans.
Last November, devastating back-to-back hurricanes, Eta and Iota, slammed Central America, leading to dozens dying in mudslides in Guatemala, tens of thousands of homes being destroyed across the region, and half a million people being displaced from their homes.
On the press call, 29-year-old Alexandra Yulieth Mejia, a single mother of two from Honduras, described fleeing Honduras due to poverty after the devastation of hurricane Eta. One of her daughters was experiencing stomach pain that doctors in her country couldn’t treat. After a dangerous journey on a migrant train route called “La Bestia” and then walking through the desert with little food or water — “I thought I was going to die,” she said in Spanish — she finally got to New York, where doctors gave her daughter a liver transplant. They told Mejia that if her daughter hadn’t received it, she might have had only one year to live.
“It’s a question of life or death,” Mejia said of receiving status to stay here. TPS would allow her to work legally, send money to her grandmother who raised her and has health issues in Honduras, and study to become a nurse.
Advocates pointed out that temporary protected status is just that — temporary — and requires regular renewals for immigrants to stay protected from deportation. They are calling on Congress to provide a path for all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain permanent residency.