U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined 32 of her Senate Democratic colleagues, led by Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), in formally requesting that the Biden administration grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) redesignations for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, in addition to a new TPS designation for Guatemala. In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Gillibrand expressed grave concern with the worsening humanitarian conditions across Central America being compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple devastating natural disasters, all of which have contributed to an uptick in outmigration from the region.
“The crisis in Central America is urgent and TPS designations and redesignations would provide critical protections for eligible beneficiaries,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New York State is home to more than 40,000 TPS holders and we must enable them to support the basic needs of loved ones back home and invest in safer alternatives to irregular migration. 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.”
Established by the U.S. Congress through the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS is a temporary, renewable program that provides relief from deportation and access to a work permit for foreign nationals from certain countries who are unable to return safely to their home country due to natural disasters, armed conflicts, or other extraordinary conditions.
Senator Gillibrand is an original cosponsor of both the U.S. Citizenship Act, a comprehensive immigration reform bill led by Senator Menendez, and the Citizenship for Essential Workers Act led by Senator Padilla. In 2021, Gillibrand led 20 colleagues in two separate funding requests to appropriators to deliver necessary resources to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to ensure efficient and fair due process for unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable populations during immigration removal proceedings. She also introduced the Funding Attorneys for Indigent Removal (FAIR) Proceedings Act, a bill that guarantees access to government-funded legal counsel during removal proceedings for children, individuals with disabilities, victims of abuse, torture, and violence, and those living at or below 200% of the federal poverty line.
In addition to Chairman Menendez, Gillibrand is joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).
Find a copy of the letter here and below.
Dear Secretary Mayorkas and Secretary Blinken,
We write to express our concerns about ongoing humanitarian needs in Central America and to appeal for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) redesignations for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and a new TPS 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. The Guatemalan government has requested a TPS designation, and U.S. Embassies have issued disaster declarations for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in recognition of the urgent needs. TPS designations 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. Lastly, such designations would be consistent with the Administration’s commitments to address climate migration.
The crisis in Central America is urgent. In the past year, the region has experienced extreme weather events, including two hurricanes followed by a months-long drought. According to the World Food Program (WFP), farmers in the region face the worst dry farming season in 35 years. Hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years, according to WFP, from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021. Eight in ten households are resorting to crisis coping measures, selling their lands, tools, and livestock, and missing meals or eating less nutritious meals. It will take years to repair damage to roads, schools, bridges, wells, and other physical infrastructure caused by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which continue to impede citizens’ livelihoods. The pressures have led to an uptick in outmigration from the region. In January, 15 percent of people surveyed by WFP said they were making concrete plans to migrate — double the number two years ago. Media report that the region’s citizens are having to choose between migrating or facing hunger. Despite U.S. Embassies’ disaster declarations, which activated the delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance, 8.3 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in July 2021, including 5.5 million who were in desperate need of food as of September 2021, according to the Famine Early Warning System Network.
The International Monetary Fund says that remittances initially supported the region’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but tropical storms Eta and Iota interrupted progress, damaging crops and halting manufacturing. In 2020, Honduras’ GDP dropped nine percent, El Salvador’s GDP dropped nearly eight percent, Nicaragua’s dropped two percent, and Guatemala’s by 1.8 percent. The IMF supported the region with emergency financing to cope with these shocks. However, the enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and lagging vaccination campaigns, especially in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, will prolong the region’s economic recovery.
Combined, the effects of the natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly exacerbated food insecurity, violence, and led to rising social tensions. Forced displacement continues to plague the region. Over one million Central Americans have been displaced by violence and insecurity. Gender-based violence continues to be a major driver of displacement, with rates increasing dramatically throughout 2020. On November 3, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights named El Salvador the most dangerous Latin American country for women. Additionally, countries in the region have suffered severe democratic backsliding and political persecution is on the rise, including through the consolidation of a dictatorship in Nicaragua, the dismantling of independent judiciaries, and efforts to intimidate and silence civil society and independent media.
TPS a humanitarian tool used by both Democratic and Republican administrations to provide relief for individuals who are unable to return to countries facing extraordinary conditions. The Biden administration must act and provide certainty for eligible individuals from Central America during this challenging moment. These temporary designations would give the U.S. government more time to partner with governments and civil society in the region to ensure that the return of a large number of individuals to Central America does not create further instability and volatility. They would also provide immediate and tangible humanitarian benefits to new status holders and help mitigate the factors driving dangerous outmigration by securing life-saving remittances.
It is our view that El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua meet the standards for TPS. We look forward to working closely with and supporting the Biden administration as it take this important step to uphold humanitarian protections, safeguard U.S. national security interests, and defend American families. Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.