Ted Hesson and Laura Gottesdiener, Reuters, December 21, 2020
The incoming Biden administration is considering a plan to shield more than a million immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala from deportation after the countries were battered by hurricanes in November, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is weighing whether to grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The program allows people already in the United States at the time of the designation to stay and work legally if their home countries have been affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts or other events that prevent their safe return. The designations last six to 18 months and can be renewed.
TPS covers both immigrants in the United States illegally and those on legal visas. The program bars certain applicants with criminal convictions and those deemed security threats.
If Biden’s Democratic administration does grant TPS to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it would represent a major expansion of the program and the biggest use of that authority in decades.
The discussion of the TPS humanitarian protections represents a sharp departure from the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.
Trump attempted to phase out most enrollment in the TPS program, arguing the countries had recovered from natural disasters that happened years or decades ago, but the terminations were slowed by federal courts and the protections will remain in place at least until October 2021.
U.S. border officials are also concerned about the effects of a major surge in migration in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The situation could be exacerbated by talk of new TPS designations, said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union for Border Patrol agents.
The governments of both Honduras and Guatemala have called on the United States to issue new TPS designations for their nationals in the United States.
A group of four Democratic senators from the states of Virginia and Maryland sent a letter on Friday to Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to become homeland security secretary, urging Mayorkas to “promptly” issue new TPS designations for Honduras and Guatemala, as well as for El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Roughly 411,000 people of different nationalities have TPS protections, according to a 2019 report by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).