The incoming Biden administration is considering a plan to shield more than a million immigrants from Honduras and Guatemala from deportation after the countries were battered by hurricanes in November, three people familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.
US President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is weighing whether to grant them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The programme allows people already in the United States at the time of the designation to stay and work legally if their home countries have been affected by natural disasters, armed conflicts or other events that prevent their safe return. The designations last six to 18 months and can be renewed.
TPS covers both immigrants in the US with and without valid visas. The programme bars certain applicants with criminal convictions and those deemed security threats.
The sources stressed that no decisions were expected until after Biden takes office on January 20 and staff are in place to conduct formal evaluations.
“They’re looking into TPS the same way they’re looking into a number of things to decide on the right course of action,” said one of the people, all of whom requested anonymity. “Circumstances on the ground certainly warrant that.”
A transition team spokesman declined to comment.
If Biden’s Democratic administration does grant TPS to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it would represent a major expansion of the programme and the biggest use of that authority in decades.
The discussion of the TPS humanitarian protections represents a sharp departure from the administration of Republican President Donald Trump.
Trump attempted to phase out most enrollment in the TPS programme, arguing the countries had recovered from natural disasters that happened years or decades ago, but the terminations were slowed by federal courts and the protections will remain in place at least until October 2021.
Biden’s campaign website called Trump attempts to roll back TPS “politically motivated” and Biden has said he would not return enrollees to unsafe countries.
If the Biden administration ultimately offers new TPS protections to Hondurans and Guatemalans, it could enthuse liberal Democrats but would risk criticism from Republicans who back Trump’s tougher approach to immigration, making it more difficult for Biden to pass the immigration bill he plans to introduce at the start of his term.