TPS holders urge Biden to expand protections against deportation and family separation

Washington DC - Immigrants' rights and labor advocates are calling on President Joe Biden to bolster Temporary Protected Status (TPS) protections to shield hundreds of thousands of vulnerable US residents from deportation.

TPS holders march for residency protections outside the US Capitol in Washington DC.
TPS holders march for residency protections outside the US Capitol in Washington DC.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

Alex Jurua was just two years old when his parents were killed in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He lived most of his life in a refugee camp in Uganda.

Now 25 years old, Jurua has found refuge in the United States. He is employed as a warehouse distribution worker and a DJ in Phoenix, Arizona, raising money to support his family still waiting for asylum protections.

"It's not safe in the DRC. People are getting killed every single night," Jurua said during a Wednesday roundtable on TPS justice organized by the Service Workers International Union (SEIU).

Trump vows to deport pro-Palestinian protesters: "Throw them out of the country"
Donald Trump Trump vows to deport pro-Palestinian protesters: "Throw them out of the country"

"If I were to go back to Congo, it would be like a death sentence. I will die."

TPS is designed to provide temporary legal status for nationals of designated countries already residing in the US when conditions like political turmoil, armed conflicts, and natural disasters prevent their safe return.

Expanding the program could protect Congolese nationals in the US – including many of Jurua's friends – from deportation back to dangerous conditions.

"I don't think it's right for the United States to send people back to the DRC. It's not safe at all," Jurua insisted.

TPS keeps families together

Members of Nepalese activist group Adhikaar rally for immigration reform in Foley Square in New York City.
Members of Nepalese activist group Adhikaar rally for immigration reform in Foley Square in New York City.  © STAN HONDA / AFP

Expanding TPS is also needed to keep families together.

Many beneficiaries of TPS have lived, worked, and paid taxes in the US for decades and have families with US citizen children.

The Biden administration has extended TPS in certain cases, but the failure to designate or re-designate TPS for all eligible countries has left many immigrants and essential workers in a state of limbo.

Judge in Trump's classified docs case denies prosecutor's request for gag order
Donald Trump Judge in Trump's classified docs case denies prosecutor's request for gag order

Devi Prasad, a TPS holder from Nepal and member of the activist group Adhikaar, came to the US 10 years ago on a student visa. Today, he lives with his wife and two children in Artesia, California.

Returning to Nepal is "not an option" for the Prasad family. The parents are small business owners. Their daughter is preparing for high school, and their 6-year-old son is receiving therapy treatment for autism – a standard of care they would not have access to in Nepal.

"Re-designation of TPS for Nepal would allow my family to live in peace without the fear of getting separated," Prasad said.

TPS expansion is a win-win for the US

Representative Pramila Jayapal is leading a Congressional Progressive Caucus Executive Action Agenda calling for TPS expansion.
Representative Pramila Jayapal is leading a Congressional Progressive Caucus Executive Action Agenda calling for TPS expansion.  © Anna Moneymaker / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

President Biden has the authority to expand TPS and provide hope to families across the country without waiting for Congress.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal is leading an Executive Action Agenda which calls on the White House to designate or extend TPS for Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Mauritania, Mexico, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Yemen.

The need for comprehensive, humane immigration reform is personal for the Washington Democrat.

"I came to this country alone at 16 years old with nothing in my pockets," Jayapal recalled during the SEIU conference. "I have experienced the American dream, but I know it is a dream that is sadly out of reach for far too many immigrants."

The congresswoman noted that expanding TPS is crucial in order to guarantee safety and security for all who meet the statutory definition for protection, while at the same time boosting the US economy.

Hundreds of thousands of TPS holders work in industries suffering from labor shortages, she said. In 2021 alone, beneficiaries of TPS contributed $2.2 billion in US taxes. That same year, undocumented immigrants – many of whom would be eligible for TPS under an expanded program – paid around $18.6 in federal income taxes and $2.2 billion in state and local taxes.

"Action on TPS will benefit members of my family and thousands of immigrants who keep the economy strong in the United States," urged Doris Landaverde, a TPS holder from El Salvador and 32BJ SEIU union leader in Massachusetts.

"It's time for this administration to recognize the contributions of the immigrant community."

Biden urged to act on TPS justice

TPS holders, their children, and their allies rally for protections against family separations in Washington DC.
TPS holders, their children, and their allies rally for protections against family separations in Washington DC.  © IMAGO / NurPhoto

As the 2024 presidential race heats up, immigrant communities are coming under attack from both sides of the political aisle.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – who sought to end the TPS program in 2017 – regularly demonizes migrants on the campaign trail and vows to implement drastic anti-immigrant measures if elected.

Meanwhile, Biden is pushing severe restrictions on the right to seek asylum. He stoked outrage after referring to undocumented immigrants by the racist term "illegals" in his State of the Union speech, for which he later apologized.

While TPS holders may not be eligible to vote, many members of their families and communities can.

Dennya Canales will be thinking of her grandmother, Honduran TPS holder and Staten Island custodial worker Perla Canales, when she casts her ballot for the first time this November.

"My message to Biden is to take action on TPS to protect those people from danger and keep families together," the 19-year-old insisted.

Landaverde's daughter, 18-year-old Virginia, will also be a first-time voter come November.

"Growing up I felt really helpless and anxious towards the whole situation. I always wanted to help my mom in any sort of way I could, and now I feel like I finally can," the high school senior said.

"With so much going on globally – natural disasters, wars, poverty – TPS is needed more than ever."

TPS families are encouraging American voters of all backgrounds to contact the White House to amplify their demand for justice.

Cover photo: IMAGO / NurPhoto

More on Migration: