Over 300 national, state, and local immigrant, religious, labor, and civil rights organizations sent a letter to Kristjen Nielsen, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking her to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Guatemala in light of recent environmental disasters. TPS provides the ability to work and protection from deportation for foreign nationals who cannot be safely returned to their home countries due to extraordinary and temporary conditions, such as an environmental disaster.
RE: REQUEST TO DESIGNATE GUATEMALA FOR TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS
Dear Secretaries Nielsen and Pompeo:
The 307 undersigned national, state, and local organizations in the areas of immigration, civil rights, human rights, labor, religion, and education respectfully request that you designate Guatemala for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under INA § 244. The environmental conditions in Guatemala stemming from a June 2018 volcano eruption; inability to safely return Guatemalan nationals; and subsequent request from the government of Guatemala for TPS clearly satisfy the statutory criteria for a designation of TPS. Designating Guatemala for TPS would potentially allow upwards of 525,000 Guatemalan nationals currently residing in the United States to register with the federal government; undergo background checks; and avoid repatriation back to dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions. This request mirrors the letter sent by half a dozen Senators, led by Senator Gillibrand, to you and Secretary Pompeo requesting TPS for Guatemala on June 28, 2018.1
As you know, Congress established TPS to provide the Executive Branch the authority to provide an abeyance from deportation for nationals who cannot be safely returned to their countries. Specifically, under INA § 244(b)(1)(B), the Secretary may designate a country for TPS 2 if:
(i) there has been an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, or other environmental disaster in the state resulting in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in the area affected,
(ii) the foreign state is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return to the state of aliens who are nationals of the state, and
(iii) the foreign state officially has requested designation . . . .
Guatemala satisfies all three statutory criteria. On June 3, 2018, Volcán de Fuego, a volcano located in southern Guatemala, unexpectedly erupted and wrought devastation to the surrounding areas as boiling ash, rocks, and pyroclastic flow (a mixture of rock and gas) spewed from the volcano. As of July 23, there have been over 100 casualties; over 300 people remain missing; nearly 13,000 people have been evacuated; and the eruption affected over 1.7 million people. The death toll is likely to be significantly higher due to the undercounting of the indigenous populations around the volcano, with local community activists stating that “[t]here could be thousands [of dead].” The eruption destroyed or placed at risk close to a 1,000 homes; destroyed or impacted major roadways; compromised electrical grids; destroyed or impacted schools; and destroyed critical infrastructure, including bridges. Other federal agencies recognized the severity of this environmental disaster, with USAID providing $300,000 in humanitarian aid to communities affected by the eruption and USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance providing technical assistance and support to local government.
On June 25, 2018, President Jimmy Morales stated that he instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to request TPS from the Trump Administration as a result of the volcanic eruption. Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel subsequently confirmed that she sent a formal request to the Administration, specifically citing TPS as a mechanism to provide “a work permit [and] to avoid [the] deportation” of Guatemalan nationals. The request from the Guatemalan government 10 reflects the reality that, due the disaster, the Guatemalan government is unable, temporarily, to adequately accept the return of its nationals.