Members of the Nicaraguan diaspora and political exiles urged US President Joe Biden to reauthorize and broaden Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaraguans. Such a move would bring relief to thousands of migrants who entered to the United States irregularly since 2018, fleeing the country’s sociopolitical crisis.
Harold Rocha, a lawyer and expert in international law now exiled in the United States, explains that the redesignation of TPS for Nicaraguans was scheduled by the White House for the last week of April. However, the office of President Biden’s domestic policy adviser considered it appropriate to include migrants from El Salvador and Honduras, which has delayed the process.
“They said [in Washington] that the decision had already been made regarding Nicaragua, and that they would offer an answer at the end of April,” states Rocha. However, “We haven’t had any news yet.” Now there’s concern that the issue could lose momentum “with the measures that are being taken on the border (with Mexico) to facilitate the transition from Title 42 to Title 8.” These measures are aimed at preventing a surge in irregular migration when Title 42 is lifted.
TPS is an immigration benefit the US government concedes to citizens of countries affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts, or other “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” It allows the beneficiaries to remain in the US legally, obtain work permits and Social Security numbers, and to opt for different public benefits that they might at some point need.
Nicaraguans were granted TPS for the first time in 1999, after the disaster provoked by Hurricane Mitch. In 2021, there were 4,250 TPS beneficiaries from Nicaragua, according to the US Citizens and Immigration Services’ report to Congress.
In 2017 and 2018, former president Donald Trump attempted to put an end to Temporary Protective Status for Nicaraguans, as well as for a number of other nationalities. That situation led a group of civil rights organizations to seek legal recourse before the local courts in California and later with the Court of Appeals.
The organizations argued “that the president didn’t have the authority to make that decision [cancelling the TPS] alone, but that he needed to consult with a series of interested parties, and he hadn’t done so. As a result, they asked that the decision be reviewed,” explains Attorney Rocha, adding that the case is still “in litigation.”
Broaden protections to include victims of the repression
Since President Biden took office, he has relied on TPS as a tool to grant immigration relief to hundreds of thousands of people. In November of last year, the Department of Homeland Security granted an 18 month extension of the program for Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Haitians, Sudanese, Hondurans and Nepalese. The measure had been due to expire on December 31, 2022.
Last March, the US media reported that the Biden Administration was planning to redesignate TPS to include Nicaraguan victims of Ortega’s repression. However, it is not yet clear when it will be implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and for how long it would be in effect.
The measure could benefit some 300,000 Nicaraguans who fled their country due to the Ortega regime’s repression of the 2018 protests and the socio-political crisis that followed. These would be in addition to the Nicaraguans who were already receiving TPS protections.
Haydee Castillo, activist and director of Nicaraguenses in el Mundo [Nicaraguans in the World], says that the need to redesignate some form of TPS for Nicaraguans began to be spoken of in 2019, when the waves of forced displacement and political exile to the US began.
“There’s a whole group of civil society organizations pushing this TPS initiative for Nicaraguans,” Castillo commented.
The activist notes that unlike the humanitarian parole program, which benefits people who wish to travel to the US, the TPS protects those already on US soil, many of whom entered irregularly.
“The parole system doesn’t cover the victims of the repression,” Castillo explains. “I don’t doubt that there may be some cases, but it’s not a policy that benefits the majority of them.” She assures that the people who have left Nicaragua as a result of the repression often do so irregularly, without a passport, much less a sponsor in the United States.
Before it’s relegated to a back burner
Both Castillo and Rocha emphasize the urgent need that TPS for Nicaraguans be redesignated in the coming days. Otherwise, it could be relegated to a back burner on the US agenda, due to issues such as the end of Title 42, scheduled for May 11, or the beginning of the electoral campaign. “Our fear is that after May 11, attention will focus on something else, especially since starting in the second semester, the two major US parties will be beginning to prepare their presidential campaigns,” Rocha comments.
Just this week, the Biden Administration confirmed they were sending 1,500 soldiers to the US – Mexican border before May 10. The deployment comes as the Government prepares to end Title 42, an immigration order imposed by former President Trump that prevented migrants from entering the United States through the southern border, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Democratic members of Congress support the petition
Sixteen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus recently asked the Biden administration to redesignate and broaden TPS for Nicaraguans, in view of the beneficiaries’ “need for security regarding their immigration status in times as uncertain as these.”
In a public letter, the Congressional representatives expressed their support for the request filed by immigrant advocates and members of the Nicaraguan diaspora and asked that “a final decision” be announced “as soon as possible.”
The letter was signed by legislators Sylvia R. García, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Darren Soto, Andrea Salinas, Tony Cardenas, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Nydia M. Velazquez, Juan Vargas, Grog Casar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Delia C. Ramirez, Linda T. Sánchez, Adriano Espaillat, Jimmy Gomez, J. Luis Correa, and Joaquín Castro, all Democrats of Hispanic descent.
They added that they understand that court cases are currently pending in relation to the termination of TPS for El Salvador, Haití, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan, but they demanded the process be speeded up.
“Many Nicaraguan community members and families will remain in uncertainty, until your Administration’s final decision is released. A TPS redesignation for Nicaragua is needed now more than ever, as Congress has stalled on approving comprehensive immigration reform, Title 42 will soon be rescinded, and the immigration situation remains fluid,” the press release stressed.
This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times