131,000 of 300,000+ TPS Holders Across the Country Working in Essential Industries as They Fight to Stay in the U.S. With Their Families
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders are on the frontlines battling both a deadly pandemic and the Trump administration. Despite serving as essential workers directly helping other Americans cope with the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration continues their attempts to deport and separate TPS workers from their communities, families, and the lives they have cultivated here in the U.S.
This is outrageous. Our nation depends on the hard work of TPS holders to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. They are janitors, nurses, delivery drivers, and more. Without TPS holders, America would be severely hampered in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past several months, America’s Voice Education Fund, working with a coalition of TPS holders, immigrants and advocates across the country, has held a series of press calls to lift up the voices of TPS holders themselves. Especially in the states we’ve highlighted below, TPS holders have put their lives on the line — risking the health of their families in service to a nation that has not done enough to protect them.
Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald wrote, “Immigration advocates seek protections for TPS recipients. Many Work on front lines of pandemic”:
While their work permits were renewed due to federal lawsuits opposing the Trump administration’s decision to terminate TPS status for six countries, including Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, beneficiaries of the program still live a life of uncertainty. In the case of Haitians, for example, their documents will expire on January 2, which Miami advocate Marleine Bastien said is right around the corner.
TPS families, she and others say, deserve better, especially considering that thousands are working in essential jobs during the crisis.
Among them is Rony Ponthieux, who has been in the U.S. for 21 years. A nurse since 2006, Ponthieux currently works at Jackson Memorial Hospital in a specialized unit for patients with COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I put my life in danger. I put my life on the line to save American lives. All of my family is at risk because of me,” he said.
Bishnu H, Nepali TPS holder, New York delivery worker and Adhikaar member said:
I am 44 yrs old. I am a TPS holder and work in Manhattan in food delivery. My children and my wife are still in Nepal. Despite all the danger and stress during these times, I still need to go to work. During this time I am exposed to contracting Coronavirus, fortunately that has not happened- but I am worried and scared. I am the only one in my family that is able to work. My single income pays for everything from school tuition for my kids, rent here and in Nepal, to everyday expenses. I am a simple person, I don’t live on a lot nor do I ask for a lot. Through TPS I, like hundreds of thousands of other TPS holders, have a work permit and pay taxes which helps me support my family and this country. If TPS holders are given permanent residency, it would let hundreds of thousands of immigrants like me continue to work, help save lives and rebuild the economy. As an essential worker, I know my value – and that this economy depends on us. We have put our lives on the line to support our community. My request to everyone in Washington D.C. is to give us permanent residency now and ensure TPS status and work permits are extended until we can achieve permanent residency.
Farida Jhabvala Romero of KQED wrote, “Essential Workers with Temporary Protected Status Could be at Risk of Deportation”:
As millions of Californians were ordered to stay home in March, Fernando Flores, 44, kept heading to work six days a week at San Mateo County’s only active landfill.
Flores, who immigrated from El Salvador, said he wakes up at 3:30 a.m. to drive a 64-foot long trailer, transporting hundreds of gallons of contaminated liquid from trash at the Ox Mountain Sanitary Landfill to wastewater treatment plants. During other shifts, Flores picks up garbage and compost from homes in Half Moon Bay.
“I’m proud to be part of an industry that’s essential,” Flores said. He’s been an employee of the waste management company Republic Services for about 16 years. “It’s a service that’s needed every day. We don’t stop.”
But Flores and more than 100,000 essential workers who are immigrants could be at risk of deportation, as President Donald Trump’s administration continues a years-long fight to end the humanitarian protections that allows them to live and work in the U.S.
About 131,000 beneficiaries of temporary protected status (TPS) nationwide are essential workers, including nearly 28,000 in California, according to research by Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, with the progressive think tank Center for American Progress.
Cameron Langford of Courthouse News Service wrote, “Immigrants Work Essential Jobs on Front Lines of Coronavirus Crisis”:
The government grants this protection from deportation to some foreigners who were in the United States when natural disasters or wars prevented them from going home.
TPS beneficiaries pay the government $495 every 18 months to renew their status, a process in which the FBI checks their backgrounds and takes their fingerprints and they get work permits.
Limbu has lived in the U.S. since 1999.
He obtained his protected status after June 24, 2015, when the government added Nepal to the program, two months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country, killing 9,000 people and injuring 22,000.
Of the estimated 411,000 TPS holders in the U.S., more than 130,000 are essential workers of businesses that have stayed open during the coronavirus pandemic, according to an April 15 letter to Trump from 38 Democratic and Independent U.S. senators urging him to automatically extend TPS holders’ work permits.
Despite the risks, Limbu sees his gas station job as a crucial cog in the nation’s response to the virus.
“I do worry that I might contract the virus. But I know that continuing to work means other essential workers are able to go to work. Like health care workers rely on me to fill up their cars and get to the hospitals,” he said through an interpreter on a press call Wednesday sponsored by America’s Voice. The Washington, D.C., nonprofit advocates for reforms to give the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
Nora G. Hertel at the St. Cloud Times wrote, “Uncertainty reigns for immigrants with temporary status in the era of COVID-19”:
“In Minnesota and throughout America we have thousands of Somali TPS holders who continue to face the agonizing uncertainty of their future,” Omar said. “Many TPS holders have escaped (the militant group) al-Shabab and will return to Somalia with a target on their back if they’re forced to return.”
Through the TPS program, the federal government allows immigrants from countries deemed unsafe to stay and work in the U.S. for six to 18 months at a time. The designation has been extended so many times that many recipients have lived in the U.S. for decades. That’s why advocates describe the system as broken.
Jacqueline Batres Bonilla has spent more time in the U.S. than in her native El Salvador. She’s been in the U.S. for nearly two decades, including years when she received life-saving cancer treatment in Minnesota.
“I probably would not be alive today,” Bonilla said on Thursday’s call. She’s earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy now. Her husband Marvin Bonilla owns a rug and flooring installation.
Christine Condon at the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Maryland Sen. Van Hollen pushes for federal protection for immigrant workers during coronavirus pandemic:”
After the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Óscar Cedillo said his family didn’t receive aid from the federal government. They relied on their savings, and food donations from their son’s school, to stay afloat.
All the while, Cedillo, a Honduran immigrant with temporary protected status, worked on the front lines as a janitor at Kaiser Permanente clinics in Montgomery County — for no extra pay.
“Cleaners are not highly paid to begin with, and now we are paying with our health and our lives to keep hospitals safe and clean for nurses, doctors and their patients,” Cedillo said. Cedillo spoke in Spanish using an interpreter during a call with Sen. Chris Van Hollen Thursday.
Van Hollen is among the federal legislators pushing to support TPS holders like Cedillo and keep them in the country with a number of legislative fixes that have largely been stonewalled by the Republican-controlled Senate. Many of these workers have been considered essential during the coronavirus pandemic.
… Amid court battles over the program, the government has extended TPS for many affected immigrants through January 2021, and as the coronavirus pandemic rages on in the U.S., legislators like Van Hollen are pushing to extend it further.
“As we struggled to defeat this virus and address the economic fallout, these TPS holders are on the front line in so many cases,” Van Hollen said Thursday. “Ending their TPS status would not only be morally wrong, but it would be totally counterproductive and stupid.”
In Maryland, some 6,600 immigrants with temporary protected status are working in occupations on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, according to the Center for American Progress, a politically liberal-leaning, Washington, D.C. based think tank.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), said:
At least 5,600 TPS holders in Massachusetts are essential workers in the response to the coronavirus. TPS holders are small business owners. They are hospital workers and nurses. They are working to keep all Americans safe during this pandemic. They are our beloved neighbors and friends. Our TPS frontline workers are essential – today during this coronavirus and everyday. That’s why we must provide them robust protections and benefits, including personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job, paid family and medical leave, and hazard pay. We need to make sure this critical workforce is compensated appropriately.
Lucia Benitez, TPS holder and Janitor at Assumption University in Worcester, MA, said:
I live in Worcester and have worked at Assumption University for 16 years. During the pandemic, I have continued to disinfect classrooms, offices, and surfaces. The pandemic has affected all of us for different reasons. COVID has affected me a lot, especially in my family. My mother, daughter, and my grandson of 3 months live in New York and contracted the virus. I felt helpless that I could not help my family, but thankfully they recovered. As an essential worker, we help the economy of the U.S., but it is unfair that after years of working to aid this country’s economy, we are told to go home to El Salvador. I have family here, and I feel like an American at this point. I have been here for 20 years and have had two jobs, paying taxes every step of the way. TPS holders are not a burden to the U.S. economy, and we feel that we have earned our permanent residency here in the United States by working hard and helping the economy.