Ted Hesson and Laura Gottesdiener
WASHINGTON – The incoming Biden administration is considering a plan to protect more than a million immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala from deportation after countries were beaten by hurricanes in November, three people familiar with the matter told .
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is weighing whether to grant them temporary protected status (TPS). The program allows people who were already in the United States at the time of appointment to stay to work and work legally if their home states are affected by natural disasters, armed conflict, or other events that prevent their safe return. Labels last six to 18 months and can be renewed.
TPS covers both immigrants to the United States illegally and those who have legal visas. The program prohibits certain applicants from criminal convictions and those considered security threats.
Sources stressed that no decisions were expected until Biden took office on January 20 and when staff are available to conduct formal assessments.
“They are investigating TPS in the same way they are considering a number of things in order to decide on the right procedure,” said one of the people, who all asked for anonymity. “Circumstances on the ground certainly justify that.”
A spokesman for the transition team declined to comment.
If Biden’s democratic administration grants TPS to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it would represent a major expansion of the program and the greatest use of that power in decades.
The TPS humanitarian protection debate represents a sharp departure from the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.
Trump has tried to phase out most TPS enrollment, arguing that countries have recovered from natural disasters that occurred decades ago, but federal courts have slowed interruptions and protection will remain in place at least until October 2021.
Biden’s campaign website called Trump attempts to introduce TPS “politically motivated,” and Biden said he would not return applicants to insecure countries.
If the Biden administration ultimately offers new TPS protection to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it could delight Liberal Democrats, but it would risk criticism from Republicans who support Trump’s tougher approach to immigration, making it difficult for Biden to pass immigration laws.
U.S. border officials are also concerned about the effects of a large influx of migrations amid a coronavirus pandemic. The situation could be exacerbated by talking about new TPS markings, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union of border patrol agents.
Two hurricanes that broke through Central America in November, called Eta and Iota, killed more than 100 people in Honduras and forced more than 300,000 people to evacuate from their homes, and more than 125,000 were still displaced in shelters, states the Honduran government.
In Guatemala, storms killed dozens of people, destroyed roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and flooded agricultural land while it was already experiencing a growing famine crisis.
More than a quarter of a million families in Guatemala have been affected by agricultural destruction, according to the agriculture ministry. The World Food Program warns that the damage will create a high risk of food insecurity for self-employed farmers and their families over the next 10 months, until the next harvest occurs.
The governments of Honduras and Guatemala have called on the United States to issue new TPS labels for its citizens in the United States.
In Texas, 42-year-old Margarita Rivera, a Honduran immigrant who lives illegally in the United States and works in a patisserie, said the flood in her hometown along the north coast was so devastating that many of her neighbors lost their homes and had to save themselves by boat.
“I would like TPS to be approved,” she said, explaining that it would be extremely difficult for her to survive and make ends meet in Honduras if she were deported.
Approximately 411,000 people of different nationalities have TPS protection, according to a 2019 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) report.
About 79,000 Hondurans are already included in the 1999 program, issued by the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton after hurricane damage. However, to qualify, Hondurans had to reside in the United States on or before December 30, 1998.