Washington, DC – Below is a column by Maribel Hastings and David Torres from America’s Voice en Español translated to English from Spanish.
Wednesday, February 2, marks the first anniversary of President Biden’s executive order to develop a regional plan addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, as well as mechanisms to manage the flow of people and their petitions for asylum.
Four long years of constant attacks on immigration from the previous administration have passed, during which thousands of Central American people left their places of origin in caravans with the hope of passing through Mexican territory, and arriving at the U.S. southern border to seek asylum. But rejection, blockades, contempt, and deportation placed entire families at a terrible crossroads which, among other things, forced them to endure unspeakable hardships on Mexican soil—while awaiting a decision that never came.
The Biden plan was formed at a time when it was greatly anticipated that the White House and congressional Democrats could achieve immigration reform that legalizes millions of people who live here already. The idea was to have a response to the critics of reform, who argued that the legalization proposals won’t keep undocumented immigrants from continuing to come.
The attempts to form new caravans—even if they have been blocked and dissolved—are further proof that the state of the economies in the Central American region is still a pending matter that requires immediate attention, and not through speeches.
A year later, we see that there is no immigration reform. The attempts to legalize at least 8 million Dreamers, TPS beneficiaries, farm workers, and other essential workers dissolved into thin air when the Senate Parliamentarian decided that the immigration language would not be part of the Build Back Better (BBB) infrastructure bill. And, worse still, the very same BBB is in a wait-and-see mode due to opposition from two conservative Democratic senators, Joe Manchin, of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, added to the block of Republican opposition.
In the balance of this political panorama hang the lives of millions of human beings who now see that, despite all of their contributions to this country on diverse levels, they are not taken into account at the time the political class has to make a sensible decision, even in these 21st century times faced by the United States.
Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris, who leads the initiative to address the root causes of migration from Central America, attended the inauguration of the new president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro. Beyond her presence as an act of protocol, a more significant way to honor the U.S. commitment to stability in the region would be reauthorizing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and a new TPS designation for Guatemala.
There’s no doubt that the Harris-Castro conversation was symbolic and significant, as they talked about topics like immigration, the fight against corruption, and the economic situation. But the fact is that the protection TPS provides is a more concrete topic that needs a swift domestic response. Put simply, there is no time to lose.
One doesn’t have to be a genius, and special committees are not needed, to fully understand the cause of Central American migration, especially to the United States. The well-known scourges of hunger, unemployment, corruption, and violence are exacerbated by natural disasters that have affected the region, not to mention the lethal effect of the COVID pandemic. One also doesn’t have to be a genius to conclude that now is not the best time to deport hundreds of thousands of Central Americans to their countries of origin, which are incapable of absorbing them. Moreover, it is those same undocumented immigrants who help sustain their families and therefore, countries, with their remittances.
One only has to recognize that Central American migration contributes invaluable labor to industries that are very important to the U.S. economy—like construction, landscaping, restaurants, and other services—to realize their necessity and essential role, on top of the deep family roots they have put down in this country.
In fact, a study by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center calculates that losing those workers who have TPS would shrink the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $4.5 billion per year. Additionally, Social Security and Medicare would lose $6.9 billion in revenues over a decade, in addition to the fact that deporting so many people would cost more than $3 billion.
If there is no way to resuscitate a migration initiative at the legislative level, the correct, moral, humane, and practical thing is for President Biden to reauthorize TPS for Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, and designate Guatemala for this same benefit. It is the minimum that could be done in the absence of the promised immigration reform.
Read the Spanish version of this column here.