There are approximately 319,000 Temporary Protective Status (TPS) holders in the United States today, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most TPS recipients have been in the country for years, often setting up roots in the United States by starting careers, building families, and becoming an integral part of their communities. The Center of American Progress estimates that 90% of the current TPS holders have lived in the United States for an average of 19 years.
Since 1990, the United States has granted Temporary Protected Status to nationals of certain countries that are experiencing:
- ongoing armed conflict,
- environmental disasters, or
- extraordinary and temporary conditions
Nineteen countries have received TPS status since its inception, with El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria being the most recent recipients. According to a study conducted by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, if TPS ended for El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti alone, within a decade, the United States would lose $6.9 billion in Social Security and Medicare contributions and $45.2 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) production.
The United States benefits when productive individuals can live and work without fear of deportation. The need to create more secure ways to achieve citizenship status for TPS holders is more critical than ever. A study by the National Intelligence Council in March of 2021 predicted that changing weather patterns could contribute to future political instability and resource disputes in struggling countries, resulting in mass migrations.
The Limitations to TPS
The TPS program was intended to offer a temporary safe haven until a recipient’s home country can become more stable. Once their home country is no longer eligible for a TPS designation, the TPS beneficiary returns to their previously held immigration status unless they acquired a new visa status. If the TPS holder illegally entered the U.S. before TPS status, they will become undocumented and be subjected to deportation.
Currently, the United States government has complete discretion to determine a country’s eligibility for TPS status. However, in the case of natural disasters, the affected country must officially request the TPS designation.
TPS status is only available to those who have been continuously present in the United States since their home country’s initial TPS designation or re-registration and has registered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Once you are granted TPS, you must re-register during each re-registration period to maintain TPS benefits. TPS holders are eligible for work authorization but must pay a significant filing fee for each renewal period.
TPS status limits access to:
- Using TPS status as a basis for family sponsorship
- Federal public benefits
- Applying for permanent residence or citizenship
- The right to ongoing immigrant status
TPS status can be denied to individuals who have:
- Committed a felony
- Two or more misdemeanors
- Committed a drug offense
- Is considered a threat to national security
- Multiple criminal offenses
TPS holders often can only plan their lives in the United States up to the next renewal period, knowing that their home country’s designation status can end at any time. The TPS designation intends to provide provisional protection against deportation and temporary work authorization. But as many statuses are extended and renewed repeatedly, it becomes difficult to think of a life outside the United States. Without the TPS status, their only option is to leave the country or apply for a work or marriage visa.
Recent TPS Updates
President Biden and the Democratic-led Congress have made initiatives to create new paths for permanent residence and citizenship for TPS holders. The Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has reflected those efforts by renewing Haiti’s TPS designation. The TPS status will only apply to individuals residing in the United States as of May 21, 2021, and have met all other requirements for TPS eligibility. Current holders under Haiti’s TPS designation will also be eligible to file a new application to ensure no gap in status.
Haiti first received a TPS designation in 2010 based on extraordinary and temporary conditions due to a catastrophic earthquake. Since then, Haiti has received many TPS extensions, including the most recent 2021 decision. According to Secretary Mayorkas, “Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After careful consideration, we determined that we must do what we can to support Haitian nationals in the United States until conditions in Haiti improve so they may safely return home.”
Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) is the president’s discretion to authorize as part of his constitutional power to conduct foreign relations. In contrast to TPS, DED does not grant specific immigration status, but like TPS, individuals covered by DED are not subject to removal from the United States, usually for a limited period of time.
Under the new Biden Administration, citizens from Liberia and Venezuela living in the United States have been granted DED status, effective until 2022. DED holders are eligible for work permits but are not permitted to travel abroad. Unlike TPS, there are no rules written into law that govern how DED eligibility is decided.
In June 2021, The Supreme Court ruled on a case concerning the legal status of individuals who were granted temporary protected status but entered the country illegally. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that currently having TPS status does not ignore the previous illegal entry.
This decision leaves many TPS holders in a difficult position without a U.S. citizen spouse, relative, or employer who could sponsor them. To obtain legal resident status, they would have to leave the United States and apply for a visa at their home country’s consulate. If the TPS holder originally entered the United States illegally, leaving the country could trigger a bar to reentry for up to ten years.
What’s Next for TPS Holders?
Legislation like the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency (SECURE) Act and the American Dream and Promise Act were recently proposed to Congress to push for more comprehensive immigration reform. The proposed legislation aims to provide a pathway to permanent legal residency with the possibility of citizenship for certain types of immigrants, including those with TPS.
Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency (SECURE) Act
First introduced in 2019, The SECURE Act was presented to Congress to allow TPS holders to become legal permanent residents (LPR) and provide much-needed stability to their communities. While it had failed to obtain the votes needed to become a law, the SAFE Act was reintroduced in 2021 by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
SECURE Act provides permanent legal residency eligibility to all individuals who have been continuously residing in the U.S. for at least three years and are in possession of a valid TPS designation. The reintroduction of this bill is in response to a federal court ruling in 2020 that terminated TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan. Honduras, and Nepal.
If the SECURE Act gains the votes needed to pass, TPS holders and deferred enforced departure (DED) holders would be eligible for green card status. To apply, they would need to prove that they lived in the United States continuously for three years and can pay an application fee of no more than $1,140. This bill would also:
- Cancel deportation proceedings for TPS and DED holders if their legal permanent resident application is approved.
- Allow for spouses and children to apply for adjustment of status to LPR applications.
- Require the Department of Homeland Security to provide reporting on future TPS terminations along with a country’s progress updates that resulted in the designation termination.
American Dream and Promise Act
In March of this year, the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act, which helps secure citizenship eligibility for DACA and TPS holders. The next step for the bill is to pass in the Senate. If it becomes a law, the Act will:
- Protect TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and individuals with DED from Liberia from deportation.
- Permit future TPS recipients to adjust to LPR status under certain circumstances, including marrying a U.S. citizen.
- The bill would permit TPS holders and TPS-eligible individuals who were deported or voluntarily departed the U.S. on or after September 17, 2017, to apply for LPR status if they meet specific requirements.
The Temporary Protected Status was created for the United States to provide temporary protection to foreign nationals subjected to catastrophic and devastating events. Despite the fact that returning individuals to still-suffering countries may create unnecessary obstacles to their recovery, the United States can only extend temporary protection and support for a limited amount of time.
As Congress debates whether TPS recipients should be eligible to become lawful permanent residents, the demand for TPS status continues to grow. Although the future of TPS holders in the United States may appear uncertain, under the Biden Administration efforts are being made to establish a more secure future.
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