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Senate Democrats are urging the Biden administration to use its authority to protect what is estimated could be millions more Central Americans from deportation — as Democratic lawmakers and activists continue to look for ways to grant amnesty and other protections to illegal immigrants.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 33 Democrats led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urge the administration to redesignate El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and make a new designation for Guatemala.
“It is our assessment that the severe damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes just over one year ago, combined with extreme drought conditions, and the social and economic crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, warrant such an action by the administration,” they wrote.
TPS protects nationals of designated countries living in the U.S. from potential deportation if they are eligible and also allows them to apply for work permits, as well as giving them the freedom to travel. El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have TPS designations but the registration periods have ended.
The Democrats claim that the designation 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 irregular migration.” They also say it could be consistent with the administration’s pledge to address “climate migration.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) ((AP Photo/Susan Walsh))
The letter cites a number of justifications for the move, including increases in food insecurity, violence and “rising social tensions” as a result of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawmakers claim that such designations would give the U.S. more time to partner with governments to make sure that their return “does not create further instability and volatility.”
Reuters cited estimates that expanding the designation could cover more than 2 million Central Americans, but those estimates were made before the enormous border crisis that erupted last year — meaning that the number could be even higher now.
Separately, Democrats have also been pushing to grant a pathway to citizenship for TPS holders in both a broad immigration reform package and as part of the budget reconciliation bill. Sen. Menendez has been a key lawmaker in both those efforts.
Those efforts were torpedoed in 2021, with the immigration package failing to pick up Republican support, and the budget reconciliation package — which would have passed without Republican support — losing the backing of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Lawmakers and advocates have pledged to continue the push for immigration protections in 2022.
The Biden administration designated Haiti for TPS last year for 18 months amid ongoing security concerns, poverty and human rights abuses in the country. In August, the administration extended the registration periods for TPS recipients from Venezuela, Syria, and Burma.