Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley demand action on TPS for immigrants

Immigrants and lawmakers are pushing for a comprehensive overhaul package that would grant permanent legal status to those with temporary protections.
Image: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, speaks at the March For TPS Justice rally in Washington on Feb. 12, 2019.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, at a March for TPS Justice rally in Washington on Tuesday. Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

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By Nicole Acevedo

Perla Canales, born in Honduras, has been living and working in the United States for 26 years under a federal program that temporarily protects her immigration status, but she is worried how long that will last.

Canales, 54, who works as a cleaner at a mall in Staten Island, New York, was one of thousands who went to Washington on Tuesday to call on Congress to enact permanent protections for those in the TPS program.

Approximately 325,000 people have Temporary Protected Status, which is granted to immigrants from certain countries fleeing natural disasters and civil wars, and allows them to live and work in the U.S.

Demonstrators walk in the March for TPS Justice in Washington on Feb. 12, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images

Though previous administrations have always renewed TPS protections, the Trump administration has tried to end the program for most of its recipients, including 200,000 Salvadorans, nearly 3,000 Nicaraguans, 57,000 Hondurans, 46,000 Haitians and nearly 10,000 from Nepal and Sudan.

Two House Democrats, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, joined the crowd of demonstrators Tuesday in front of the White House.

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“From Nepal to Honduras, we made a promise that we were going to be a safe haven,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We need to make sure that, as a nation, we honor our promises.”

“TPS is a falsehood,” Pressley said. “What's temporary about families that have been contributing to this country for decades? … We’re here affirming your dignity and demanding that this administration sees your humanity.”

Though courts have temporarily blocked the Trump administration from ending TPS for some holders, their fight toward a permanent solution that allows them to enjoy the lives they’ve built in the U.S. without the fear of deportation has taken on a new sense of urgency.

“We’re not a burden for this country," Canales told NBC News. "I’ve been contributing to it for a long time because this is my country."

The Trump administration has said TPS should come to an end because conditions in the countries covered by the program have improved enough for its residents to return there, and protected status was only meant to be temporary.

TPS supporters disagree. They say the families affected could face the risk of being deported to countries such as Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which still have high levels of violence, poverty and political instability.

The Nicaraguan government is pushing to implement steep pension cuts and tax increases that could plunge the country into recession, while roughly one in five people in Honduras live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

Honduras’ hostile political climate has gotten increasingly worse since November 2017 due to election fraud allegations that led to deadly protests nationwide. Thousands in Haiti have also taken the streets, angry about skyrocketing inflation and rampant economic mismanagement.

Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the New American Economy, a bipartisan group dedicated to immigration reform, said the loss of hundreds of thousands of TPS holders would have a detrimental effect on the U.S. economy.

“After Hurricane Harvey in Houston, we saw that they had a huge impact in reconstruction because TPS holders stepped up when they needed construction workers,” Robbins said.

According to Robbins' group, 96 percent of TPS holders are of working age and 19 percent work in construction. Additionally, their total income and tax contributions reached $8.8 billion in 2017.

The timing of the demonstration Tuesday added another layer of urgency as Congress and the administration face a Friday budget deadline to avoid another government shutdown.

“Government funding essentially depends on finding some sort of agreement to immigration funding,” Robbins said.

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