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Senate Democrats are urging the Biden administration to use its power to protect an estimated millions of Central Americans from deportation — as Democratic lawmakers and activists continue to search for ways to grant amnesty and other protections to undocumented immigrants.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mallorcas and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, 33 Democrats led by Senator Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, urged the administration to reallocate El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and make the designation New to Guatemala.
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“It is our assessment that the extensive damage caused by back-to-back cyclones a little over a year ago, as well as severe drought conditions and socio-economic crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, warrant such action by the administration,” they wrote.
TPS protects citizens of designated countries living in the United States from possible deportation if they qualify and also allows them to apply for work permits, as well as giving them freedom to travel. El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have TPS designations but registration periods have expired.
Democrats argue that designation and reallocation would “provide critical protections to eligible beneficiaries and enable them to support the basic needs of loved ones back home and invest in safer alternatives to irregular immigration.” They also say it could be consistent with the administration’s pledge to tackle “climate migration”.
The letter cites a number of justifications for the move, including increased food insecurity, violence and “heightened social tensions” as a result of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers claim that such designations will give the United States more time to partner with governments to ensure that their return “does not lead to more instability and volatility.”
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Reuters cited estimates that the classification expansion could cover more than two million Central Americans, but those estimates were made before the massive border crisis that erupted last year – meaning the number could be higher now.
Separately, Democrats have also been pushing for a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders both in a broad immigration reform package and as part of a budget settlement bill. Senator Menendez was one of the key lawmakers in each of those efforts.
Those efforts were torpedoed in 2021, with the immigration package failing to win Republican support, and the budget settlement package — which would have passed without Republican support — losing the support of Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va. Lawmakers and advocates vowed to keep pushing for immigration protections in 2022.
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The Biden administration rated Haiti last year for 18 months amid persistent security concerns, poverty and human rights abuses in the country. In August, the administration extended registration periods for TPS recipients from Venezuela, Syria and Burma.