Latin America Advisor

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Will the U.S. Gov’t Extend Protections for Nicaraguans?

Photo of a pro-TPS rally. Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Nicaraguan migrants. // File Photo: Northwestern University. Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Nicaraguan migrants. A pro-TPS rally is pictured. // File Photo: Northwestern University.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers from Florida on July 15 urged the administration of President Joe Biden to “redesignate and extend” Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Nicaraguans living in the United States, a designation that would protect them from deportation. The United States first granted Nicaraguans the designation in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch struck Central America, and a court injunction is currently in effect, allowing Nicaraguans to maintain the status after beneficiaries sued the federal government following former President Donald Trump’s efforts to do away with it. How likely is the Biden administration to solidify the TPS designation for Nicaraguans? What criteria will go into the decision? What factors are in play concerning a TPS designation for other Latin Americans, such as Venezuelans, for whom the Biden administration already extended it for those who were already eligible, and what is the state of extending TPS to migrants from other countries in the region?

Tim Kaine, member of the U.S. Senate (D-Va.): “As we continue pressing for the restoration of democratic rights in Nicaragua, and work with regional and international partners to support the Nicaraguan people in finding a way forward, we can also allow Nicaraguans currently in the United States to live and work here legally by redesignating Nicaragua for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) until it is safe for them to return to Nicaragua.”

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, member of the U.S. House of Representatives (D-Fla.): “As stated in the letter, which I cosigned to the Biden administration along with my congressional colleagues, Florida is home to a vibrant community of Nicaraguans, many of whom are undocumented and have resided in the United States for years while unrest in Nicaragua continues. The recent expiration of Nicaragua’s TPS designation places more than 4,500 Nicaraguans who fled the destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than 60,000 Nicaraguans fleeing the repression of the Daniel Ortega regime at grave risk if they are forcibly repatriated. Generally, the secretary of homeland security may designate a foreign country for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent its nationals from returning safely or in certain circumstances where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately. In the case of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela and the Republic of Haiti, those countries and their nationals are eligible for TPS designation and extension due to ongoing insecurity. It is in the national security and strategic interest of the United States to provide refuge to those seeking safety. Otherwise, we will continue to see the rise of migrants taking dangerous and deadly routes to our shores. However, we must be mindful that TPS is merely a temporary solution, especially for those already living in the United States. House Democrats passed legislation that would create a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for TPS and DACA recipients. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass the law immediately to ensure a permanent solution for hard-working immigrants and migrants.”

Louis DeSipio, associate professor of political science and chair of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California Irvine: “Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a necessary tool in the toolbox of U.S. foreign policy that needs to continue to be available to policymakers. It has unfortunately become caught up in the ongoing debate about the future of U.S. immigration policy. As a result, policymakers are politicizing the program and forcing the courts to be arbiters over procedural matters about its implementation. This clouds an important power that the United States has traditionally exercised. The program is designed to be a tool when countries with whom the United States has ongoing ties are experiencing extraordinary and temporary domestic challenges that disrupt their national economies and the opportunities of their nationals to thrive. Although TPS status can be extended to any country, it has been used primarily in the Americas. The recent extension of TPS status for Venezuelans is a positive sign that the Biden administration is committed to implementing the designation in times of crisis. Similar protections for Nicaraguans should follow; the advocacy from Florida lawmakers adds to the political incentives for Biden, but U.S. foreign policy interests should be the dominant factor guiding the program’s use. A case for extending TPS protections to Nicaraguans residing in the United States can be made along lines comparable to the recent decision about the political and economic situation of Venezuelans. Should Congress be able to find a compromise to restructure U.S. immigration policy broadly, a piece of the compromise needs to be an opportunity for some long-term TPS recipients to transition to permanent residence.” 

Manuel Orozco, director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue: “The request focuses on an effort to extend the 18-month period, which ends in December 2022, to 4,500 Nicaraguans under protection and include more than 60,000 who have left Nicaragua since the political crisis of 2018. The number of Nicaraguans coming to the United States between September 2020 and June 2022 is now more than 180,000 people, the majority of whom are seeking asylum. The administration is hard-pressed to assign the status given the pressure from other sectors to do so for Venezuelans and other Central Americans (Hondurans and Salvadorans). The criteria this time will include the period following the April 2018 crisis for people seeking relief as they left the country for political reasons. Many of those who have arrived at the U.S. border have submitted claims for asylum application, and the TPS extension would apply to those who are not on any regular or adjusted status.”

Edison Lanza, nonresident senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue and former special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: “The proposal of a bipartisan initiative to extend and reassign Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Nicaraguans living in the United States is a good first step. This status has had a positive effect on people who have had to immigrate to the United States because of calamities such as Hurricane Mitch, and it has also aided their family members who have remained in Nicaragua and now receive help from relatives abroad. However, the situation in Nicaragua has been aggravated by other factors. The repression that the Ortega-Murillo regime has unleashed since the protests of April 2018 and deep human rights violations have led to the forced exile of members of civil society, journalists, student delegates and democracy activists, as well as people linked to them. A TPS definition that contemplates the situation of persecution and repression in Nicaragua, as well as the deterioration of the country’s social and economic situation, would offer some oxygen to a community that needs stability to confront these current challenges.”

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