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Immigrant Advocates and Potential TPS Holders Call on Administration for Central America TPS Designations

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You can hear a recording of the call here

Earlier today, immigrant advocates and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders gathered on a press call to urge the Biden administration to act swiftly on TPS designations for Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.

Widespread poverty, food insecurity, political instability, and devastation in the aftermath of Hurricanes Eta and Iota have rendered Central American countries unsafe to return to and merit TPS redesignations to protect immigrants and their families already living and working in the U.S. Pressure is mounting for the Biden Administration to use TPS as a tool to protect immigrants, stabilize the region, and strengthen the U.S. economy. The press call was organized by Alianza Americas, Presente.org, CARECEN of Washington DC, Hondurans Against AIDS, and Casa Yurumein amidst several days of action, and speakers called for Central America TPS designations and urged Congress to pass permanent protections for all TPS holders.

Alexandra Yulieth Mejia, Garifuna Mother from Honduras and Potential TPS holder, said, “My name is Alexandra Mejia and I’m a Honduran who was born in the coastal city of Trujillo in the department of Colón, which was affected during the Eta and Iota Hurricanes, leaving poverty and destruction in its wake. I’m 29 years old. I used to be a student in Santa Úrsula, but only until high school. I’m the youngest of three siblings. My father died when I was four and my mom when I was just nine. I was in the care of my maternal grandmother, but she passed away when I was 11, so my paternal grandmother took care of me. Instability has been a constant throughout my life. I am the mother of two daughters and I worked for years in Honduras as a domestic worker. Later, I took a job in a restaurant in the city of Trujillo, but the wages were not enough to cover basic needs. I have always felt the need to succeed and to do better—especially considering the responsibility I have to my two daughters and grandmother.

My oldest daughter began having swelling in her stomach and doctors in Honduras could not find a solution or cause for her condition. Given the situation, we made the decision to migrate to the United States. It was a month-long journey with my daughters, in which we traveled up Central America riding La Bestia (a train known as The Beast). We thought we were going to die. We walked through the desert for a day and a half with very little water and food. The only inner strength I had was the purpose of helping my grandmother, who had suffered from multiple health conditions including high cholesterol, arthritis, and high blood pressure, just to name a few. One of the first things I did when I arrived in the U.S. was taking my daughter to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. She was placed on a waiting list for a liver transplant while she was being medicated and getting treatment. Fortunately, on May 16th of 2021, she underwent a liver transplant. According to the doctor’s forecast, she had only a year of life left if she had not gotten the transplant. The poor health system in my country placed my daughter’s life in peril and moving to New York for me and my family was a matter of life and death. The chance of official protection under TPS to grant me access to a work permit and be able to help my daughters, continue supporting my grandmother’s health, be protected from deportation, and also to achieve access to education (I want to continue to study to become a nurse)—it is for these reasons that I ask Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to please grant immediate TPS status for Central America. For the lives of thousands of families who would see a positive change and contribute to making our lives better in the United States.”

Ana Ortiz, Essential Worker from El Salvador and Potential TPS holder, said, “I was born and grew up in a dysfunctional home. At the age of 10, I went to live with my grandmother who was a teacher. As many other women in the country, regardless of their social status, I became the victim of violence from my ex-husband. Back then, it was very difficult to complete my studies and take care of the house, as well as work to provide for my daughters. I was continuously being abused, so it was then, in 2008, that I decided to flee the situation with my two 7 and 8-year-old daughters. I arrived in Maryland, and it wasn’t easy to adapt due to the language barrier and culture. I began working, and my daughters attended community college, but because of their status, they haven’t been able to complete their college studies as they would like, a TPS status will allow them to move forward to accomplish their dreams. That is why I desire protected status to protect our quality of life to work and contribute without fear due to the political, economic, and social situation. I hope to be able to access TPS to work with dignity, to live with tranquility, and to live without fear.”

Nancy Treviño, Director of Communications and Digital Organizing, Presente.org, said, “At Presente, we are committed to permanent protections for TPS holders.  We are calling on Secretary Mayorkas and the Biden administration to create a new TPS designation for nationals from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Honduras, and will continue to pressure the administration to grant TPS to Central American nationals. This is an issue of national concern. Americans across the country have signed a petition standing with us. It is Americans across the country who are pressuring the administration to grant TPS to nationals who are equally deserving. By granting TPS, the administration will be taking the first step to allow migrants who are in the U.S. to receive permanent status.”

Katy Gil, Lead Organizer, Hondurans Against AIDS/Casa Yurumein, said, “We work with communities from the indigenous community that were facing horrible situations last November in Central America in the coastal areas because of weather issues. We already experienced some deep social problems that were affecting and forcing our Afro-Descendent and Indigenous communities to migrate mostly having to do with violence. Another topic is climate change which then drives lack of opportunity, and there is an abysmal inequality in our society and our culture. These are elements that members of our communities must deal with in order to work. That is why people are forced to leave from there. In New York, we work with Afro-Descendent and Indigenous communities who provide many services to the economy and the United States. It is necessary, it is paramount, to have access to a work permit so that they don’t face complexity when they cannot access formal employment, which is an immediate need. We request, therefore, that the Biden administration, for all of these reasons, enact TPS for all of our communities. ” 

Gabe Albornoz, Vice President, Montgomery County Council, said, “We are proud in Montgomery County to have three of the top six most diverse cities in the United States. Over 44% of our county residents speak English as a second language and we are a majority minority community. We believe that our immigrant community in particular contributes to every corner of our society, culture, and economy. If we receive an additional TPS designation for our thousands of county residents who are here fleeing violence and extreme economic challenges from their countries of origin, it will allow yet another generation of immigrants to be able to establish strong roots here. Over the past four years, we have seen that many members of our immigrant community have disengaged from county services in part for fear that in some way accessing these services will hurt their legal status and encourage them to be deported, and this has been particularly problematic during the pandemic. Early on, there was clear evidence that a number of residents of our immigrant community were more reluctant to receive a test for COVID-19, and we have now seen they are less likely to receive the vaccination. From a public health standpoint, it is critically important for us as a local jurisdiction that everyone comes out of the shadows and feels as though they are in the position to contribute economically, socially, culturally, and civically. We must fully account for and support all of the families and particularly those who are disproportionately impacted by the virus. It is a moral responsibility, and we need to live out the values of our community. In a global economy, having so many residents that speak so many languages is an asset. We urge the Biden Administration to extend TPS to the thousands of constituents in our community who are coming because they are fleeing violence and extreme economic conditions. ”

Oscar Chacon, Executive Director of Alianza Americas, said, “We will be focusing on the status of efforts regarding a potential new designation for TPS for Central American nationalities which have been undergoing increasing difficulties from the impact of COVID-19 and also several weather events, including tropical storms, that caused significant damage to several countries in the region. All of these events have added to the already difficult situation that these countries were facing even before these events impacted them. This has led to many organizations undertaking a network of pressing the Biden administration to designate Central American nationalities, especially Hondurans, Guatemalans and Nicaraguans, as recipients of protection in the form of TPS. As many know, about 2 weeks ago the administration announced TPS for Haitians, a move that we very much welcome but we also believe that Central Americans are in the same level of need that would require the administration to take the action that we are calling for. ”