The U.S. Senate isn’t seriously considering a path to permanent residency or citizenship for more than 300,000 Temporary Protected Status recipients as part of an immigration deal to keep 689,000 Dreamers from being deported.
Two senators involved in ongoing immigration talks, Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, said there aren’t active serious discussions about the fate of TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras.
“The bipartisan group is trying to get some consensus of what can pass that will protect the DACA Dreamers,” Nelson said. “What I expect is within two weeks we are going to get a DACA solution. I would hope it includes TPS, but if it messes up getting votes in order to pass the Dreamers, I think that would not be considered then and would be held for more comprehensive immigration.”
Flake said a proposal did exist at one point to take some visas from the diversity lottery and apply them to TPS recipients. But the idea, part of an immigration proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was rejected by President Donald Trump.
TPS has been discussed at recent Senate immigration meetings, according to Flake, but the topic isn’t under serious consideration as Senate Democrats and Republicans try to negotiate an immigration proposal that will receive 60 votes in the upper chamber, along with the approval of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Trump.
“It’s been discussed but nothing firm,” Flake said, adding there’s “no serious discussion” about TPS.
The Senate stance on TPS comes after Trump reportedly blasted TPS recipients in a White House meeting, saying, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out,” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” — in reference to immigrants living and working legally in the United States under TPS and to making changes to the diversity lottery system.
Several senators, including Florida Republican Marco Rubio, have said in recent weeks that any immigration bill should focus on finding a solution for DACA recipients in exchange for stronger border security measures, though Trump has said he wants to end the diversity lottery and cut legal immigration as part of any deal to give DACA recipients and DACA-eligible unauthorized immigrants a path to citizenship. Trump’s proposal is a non-starter for most Democrats.
“Legal status for those currently in DACA & stronger Border Security has overwhelming support & is ideal starting point for Senate debate,” Rubio tweeted on Tuesday.
South Florida is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitians, along with a sizable number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.
Nelson said “you have to create a different kind of category” for current TPS recipients, because a mass exodus of 60,000 Haitians from the U.S. would have ripple effects on the economies of both South Florida and Haiti. Multiple bills that would provide a path to permanent residency or citizenship for some or all TPS recipients have been proposed in the House of Representatives, but a vote on any TPS bill isn’t imminent.
“In solving immigration problems you really have to also solve what are you doing with TPS because ... there’s going to be cases where, for example Haiti, you can’t return 60,000 people all at once to Haiti,” Nelson said. “The economy of Haiti could not swallow that, but that’s more for immigration reform.”
Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has signed on to multiple bills that would give TPS recipients a path to permanent citizenship and complained that most members of Congress were unaware of the issue. On Wednesday she said there would be more of an appetite to find a solution for TPS recipients if DACA recipients and DACA-eligible immigrants had already been protected from deportation by Congress.
“There just isn’t room in people’s hearts right now,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month he would agree to debate and vote on an immigration bill in the Senate, though he didn’t agree on a specific proposal. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gave a lengthy speech on Wednesday opposing a massive budget deal that would keep the government open because “the package does nothing to advance bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers.”
The Department of Homeland Security canceled TPS for Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua in recent months and extended Honduras’ TPS designation until July in order to formulate a final decision. Nearly 60,000 Haitians, 200,000 Salvadorans, 2,500 Nicaraguans and potentially 57,000 Hondurans could be forced to leave the country in 2019 unless Congress passes legislation.
“I think that we really have to knuckle down and bring our nation into a 21st century immigration system. It’s ridiculous the way we are operating right now,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who has also proposed multiple bills to prevent TPS recipients from being deported.
“The lack of compassion, the demonization of immigrants, it’s not healthy for our country.”