US President-elect Joe Biden is considering plan that would shield more than a million immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala from deportation after they were battled by hurricanes.
Biden’s transition team team is weighing whether to grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The programme 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.
TPS covers both immigrants in the US with and without valid visas. The programme bars certain applicants with criminal convictions and those deemed security threats.
“They’re looking into TPS the same way they’re looking into a number of things to decide on the right course of action,” said one of the people, all of whom requested anonymity. “Circumstances on the ground certainly warrant that.”
If Biden’s Democratic administration does grant TPS to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it would represent a major expansion of the programme 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 programme, 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.
Biden’s campaign website called Trump attempts to roll back TPS “politically motivated” and Biden has said he would not return enrollees to unsafe countries.
If the Biden administration ultimately offers new TPS protections to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it could enthuse liberal Democrats but would risk criticism from Republicans who back Trump’s tougher approach to immigration, making it more difficult for Biden to pass the immigration bill he plans to introduce at the start of his term.
Two hurricanes that powered through Central America in November, named Eta and Iota, killed more than 100 people in Honduras and forced more than 300,000 to be evacuated from their homes, with more than 125,000 still displaced in shelters, according to the Honduran government.
In Guatemala, the storms killed dozens of people, destroyed roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and inundated swaths of farmland while it already had a growing hunger crisis.
More than a quarter of a million families in Guatemala have been affected by agricultural destruction, according to the agricultural ministry. The World Food Programme warns the damage will create a high risk of food insecurity for subsistence farmers and their families throughout the next 10 months until the next harvest occurs.
The governments of both Honduras and Guatemala have called on the US to issue new TPS designations for their nationals in the United States.