Rep. Darren Soto and others want to expand TPS status for Hurricane Iota, Eta survivors
“Most of the people affected are actually people from indigenous and afro-central communities, which, among the poor, have also been the poorest of the poor,” - Oscar Chacón
Back-to back major tropical storms plundered Central America last Fall. From Eta Delta, and Iota, to name a few, all hit the Yucatán peninsula and other parts of the region with enough force to cause mass-evacuations, extensive damage, and dozens of deaths.
In early October, Hurricane Delta grew from a tropical storm to a major hurricane in mere hours, hitting the Yucatán peninsula with winds of 105 mph, and bringing a dangerous surge of up to 12 feet. It solidified what has been the busiest hurricane season in recorded history, exacerbated by the changing climate.
Hurricane Eta hit Nicaragua a month later as a 145- mph Category 4 “monster.” It brought widespread damage, deaths, and catastrophic flooding to Central America, resulting in at least 200 deaths across Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.
— aldianews (@ALDIANews) November 11, 2020
After months of a difficult recovery process made worse by the current worldwide health crisis, several countries including Guatemala and Honduras have asked the Biden Administration to designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for countries devastated by the hurricanes.
On Tuesday, Jan 26, Rep. Darren Soto (FL-09) and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) sat down with advocates from Alianza Americas, the Center for American Progress, Oxfam, and Nancy Ruiz, an essential worker from Honduras who told her story to listeners, in an effort to expand TPS to her home country.
She addressed the president directly.
“A new TPS for Honduras would change my life, my daughters, and my mothers. I want to have more job opportunities, pay for health insurance, I want to get trained as a nurse, to take care of other people, and most importantly that they don’t separate me from my daughter,” Ruiz said.
Kaine went on toadvocate for both the expansion of TPS status that would affect those like Ruiz, but also DACA recipients and Dreamers.
“In recent years, it has been Dreamers who worked to change public awareness and its perspective on TPS status. Their advocacy for DACA has really cemented in the public’s mind the justness of their cause,” said Kaine, adding that they are absolutely critical, despite the constant efforts by the Trump administration to terminate the TPS programs, which he labeled as politically motivated.
Kaine and his fellow Democratic Senator from Virginia, Sen. Mark Warner, sent a letter to DHS Secretary designate Alejandro Mayorkas in December, asking him to take “swift action once confirmed” to protect the 58,000 TPS recipients living in Virginia and Maryland alone, specifically from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan.
Kaine referenced estimates of up to a decade of recovery from the onslaught of hurricanes in the Central American region, citing it as the reason for his quest for the redesignation and expansion of TPS.
Rep. Darren Soto connected the humanitarian crisis to the constituents he represents in Central Florida. Like Kaine, Soto said he said many have TPS status from conflict in their countries of origin.
“Whether it is the extension of DACA, our deferred action program, whether it is Temporary protected status… folks from Central America, including Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, as well as our brothers and sisters from Haiti, who already have this temporary protected status, we have many folks who live in Florida, some of which have called Florida home for 10 to nearly 20 years,” he said.
Soto also brought significant attention to the status of Venezuelans, who have remained in limbo in terms of status for months. He recently supported a legislation introduced by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to grant TPS status to Venezuelans on account of the actions of former President Trump on his last day in office.
The TPS status issue of Venezuela differs from that of countries heavily impacted by hurricanes, but follows the same legislative path.
“The Dream and Promise Act was passed by the House last term. That’ll be top of mind for this term to give pathway to citizenship to our Temporary Protected Status holders, for Dreamers, as well as for DED [Deferred Enforced Departure] recipients,” Soto said.
He hinted to Biden’s figure immigration moves, referencing pending legislation that would further reform the nation’s immigration rather than merely remove a bulk of the previous administration’s policies.
Oscar A. Chacón with Alianza Americas drew the humanitarian issue home, and away from partisan lines.
“There’s no question that the storms came at a terrible moment,” he said, adding that it only exacerbated the effects of COVID-19 over the past years.
Chacón also brought the integral historic and racial elements into the picture.
“These are countries that have suffered historically — of profound inequalities, from very extreme levels of poverty,” he said. “We are absolutely calling on President Biden, Vice President Harris, to absolutely consider granting this new designation which would benefit people who are already protected from some of the countries, including Guatemala, which is in significant need of support at this time.”
Chacón added that most of the people affected are from indigenous or Afro communities, “which, among the poor, have also been the poorest of the poor.”
It must also be addressed, Chacón added, that Central Americans send millions back to their families in their home countries annually. By this reasoning and more, enacting a new TPS protection measure would benefit both their communities and the United States in stabilizing the Central American economy.
To a similar extent, expanding TPS also goes a long way in advancing the understanding that the Biden-Harris administration has with Central America in order to cultivate a healthier relationship in terms of immigration.
But as Chacón stated, at the heart of the crisis is the prolonged effect that the hurricane season has had on the most disenfranchised communities in Central America, who would benefit from expanded status — and increased attention on their situation in general.