TPS holders call on White House to address "moral debt" in march for residency protections
Washington DC - Immigrants' rights activists are preparing to rally in front of the White House on Friday to urge the Biden administration to extend temporary protections by executive order. Erik Villalobos of the National TPS Alliance told TAG24 NEWS more about their demands.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a non-permanent legal status conferred on nationals of designated countries who are already residing in the US.
TPS has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to live, work, and raise families in the US, in some cases for more than 20 years. All of that was threatened when former President Donald Trump announced an end to the program in 2017.
"This automatically sparked a bunch of fear across the entire United States. There was complete uncertainty of what would happen," Erik Villalobos, communications manager for the National TPS Alliance, told TAG24.
The grassroots organization did everything they could to prevent family separations, with members filing a lawsuit against the decision to end TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Nepal. Led by TPS holders and their US citizen children, the legal action has preserved temporary residency protections, at least for now.
"Even though Trump tried to cancel the program, TPS is still around. And not only is it around protecting current TPS holders, but we have new TPS holders. We have people from Afghanistan, Venezuela, Cameroon, Ukraine – all folks protected under this program that was essentially saved by TPS holders who stood up and rallied in DC and rallied across the country to make sure they didn't lose their legal status," Villalobos said.
Now, those same activists and their supporters are once again gathering in Washington DC on September 23 to demand the Biden administration renew residency protections.
Addressing the United States' "moral debt" to TPS countries
While the current lawsuit continues to play out in the courts, TPS for Central American and Nepalese nationals in the US is guaranteed. After that, the picture gets a lot more unclear.
That's why advocates are calling on the Biden administration to act now by extending TPS for those countries, arguing that the US has a special responsibility toward Central Americans, in particular.
"One of the things we've been really trying to uplift this year is the historical and moral debt the US government has to TPS countries," Villalobos said.
The majority of the National TPS Alliance's members are from Central America – a region with a recent history marked by civil wars and environmental disasters. The US has played no small role in destabilizing those countries by supporting violent coups and pouring billions of dollars into military and paramilitary groups.
"These are all things that are connected. The reason why we have a massive diaspora of Central Americans in the United States is connected to why there are ongoing issues in these countries and why we still have massive waves of migration," Villalobos explained.
In addition to renewing TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, the National TPS Alliance is calling for a designation for Guatemala, which currently has none.
"We feel that, when we talk about this historical debt owed to Central America, Guatemala is obviously connected to that, and it's really unfortunate that you have a massive population of Guatemalan people in the United States and no protections have been offered to them," Villalobos said.
Meanwhile, Central Americans in the US have sacrificed their own health and safety to work on the front lines throughout the pandemic. TPS holders also contribute billions of dollars in US taxes each year, even as they continue fighting for residency guarantees.
"We're not just asking for TPS – or even for permanent residency – because we want it," Villalobos insisted. "It's more because we believe it's owed to us."
Pushing the Biden administration to act
While the National TPS Alliance prioritizes permanent residency, advocates acknowledge it's notoriously difficult to get any pro-immigrant legislation through Congress during midterm election years like this one.
That's why they are shifting their focus at Friday's rally to President Joe Biden's ability to extend TPS by executive order.
"We want him to use his executive authority to still protect migrants. We know that it's something he could do without having to seek congressional approval," Villalobos pointed out. "TPS is exactly what he could use to protect potentially even millions of migrants and refugees who are in need of immediate protections."
But the group knows they are up against the White House's fear that extending protections for Central Americans could encourage more migrants to attempt the journey to the US.
"Again, it's zero acknowledgement of the conditions in Central America, zero acknowledgement of the impacts of climate change in Central America," Villalobos said. "It's more like, no, we can't give folks papers here because it will motivate people there to come here."
While the US government fails to account for its dark history of intervention in TPS countries, hundreds of thousands of families in the US are left in a "constant limbo," unsure when their residency protections will be extended or for how long. Villalobos insists this is anxiety that could be avoided through executive action.
Aside from joining Friday's march to the White House, which begins at Freedom Plaza in Washington DC at 10:00 AM EDT, he directed those looking for additional ways to give their support to follow the National TPS Alliance on social media or consider donating to the organization.
For Villalobos, the issue is straightforward: "President Biden has the power of his pen to do what's right, and what's right is protecting migrants. He really has no excuses around that."
Cover photo: Screenshot/Facebook/TPS Alliance / Alianza TPS