More than 270 organizations around the country have signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to provide temporary immigration status to hundreds of thousands of Central American undocumented immigrants.
“The undersigned civil rights, labor rights, faith-based, immigrant, human rights, humanitarian, and legal service organizations, respectfully request that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in consultation with the Secretary of State, designate El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (an area known as the ‘Northern Triangle’) for Temporary Protected Status (TPS),” says the letter formally unveiled Monday by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
Were Obama to follow suit and order TPS for these Central American migrants, the decision would likely spark controversy because it would cover tens of thousands of people, including minors, who have streamed across the Mexican border in growing numbers since at least 2012. The measure could make about 1.2 million additional Central Americans eligible for TPS, though fewer than 800,000 likely would obtain the benefit because others would not meet requirements, according to a recent report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
TPS is an immigration benefit that provides protection against deportation to nationals of countries that are designated by the federal government. It means that visitors from those countries, who overstay their visas, and undocumented immigrants from those countries who have arrived without visas can stay legally in the United States because conditions in their homelands are so dangerous that they would be unsafe if returned.
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Already, 13 countries have been designated for TPS including El Salvador and Honduras. But the designation for those countries cover only nationals who entered the United States before TPS was granted at the time, 2001 for the Salvadorans and 1998 for the Hondurans. That means that people from those countries who arrived after 2001 and 1998 are not eligible for TPS.
Undocumented Salvadorans were allowed to stay under TPS granted because of destruction caused by an earthquake in their country in 2001. Hondurans and some Nicaraguans obtained TPS granted after destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The letter sent to the president recommends that the administration grant the new TPS designation to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras on the basis of growing gang violence in those countries.
“These three countries warrant TPS designation in light of the dramatically escalating violence that has precipitated a humanitarian crisis of refugees fleeing the Northern Triangle countries,” the letter says.
The letter goes on to cite statistics to demonstrate the threat to undocumented immigrants if they are returned to their homelands.
In El Salvador, the letter said, officials recorded 6,657 people murdered in 2015, a 70 percent increase from 2014. Citing a recent study conducted by San Diego State University social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy, between January 2014 and September 2015, at least 45 Salvadorans were murdered after they were deported from the United States. In Guatemala, three were murdered after being deported, and 35 in Honduras, the report said.
Some of the groups that signed the letter include: Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami; Church World Service; Detention Watch Network; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Florida Immigrant Coalition; Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA; Immigration Center for Women and Children; Jesuit Conferene, National Advocacy Office; Kids in Need of Defense; League of United Latin American Citizens; Mi Familia Vota; National Immigration Forum: OneAmerica; Proyecto Azteca; Reform Immigration FOR America; Salvadoreños Unidos de Oregon; Tahirih Justice Center; United We Dream; Voces de la Frontera; and Washington Office on Latin America.