As advocates push for state resolution, New Bedford educates its TPS holders

Publisher: 
South Coast Today
Author: 
Sam Cote
Publication Date: 
October 1, 2017

BOSTON - SouthCoast immigrants, particularly those with Temporary Protected Status, are seeking options after federal immigration law changes leave them fearful of losing their status that resulted from dangerous conditions, typically ongoing conflicts or environmental disasters in their home country.

TPS provides employment authorization and protection from deportation for foreign nationals who cannot return safely to their home countries, which are designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Immigrants from three countries in particular, El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, are at risk of termination of their status in the next year.

Foreign nationals with TPS are first given six to 18 months of protection and work authorization with an ability to renew. Many recipients have been here for years and have traditionally expected their status to continue. Only eligible nationals can renew their TPS, excluding anyone convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the U.S.

There are an estimated 186,403 Salvadorans, 70,281 Hondurans and 46,558 Haitians with protected status. Deporting those 300,000 people would cost taxpayers $3.1 billion, according to Centro Presente, an East Boston-based social service agency that advocates for immigrant communities, specifically from South America.

According to current estimates, Massachusetts has the third-largest population of Haitians behind Florida and New York and there are large populations of Hondurans and Salvadorans as well.

Advocates say a bill, aimed at protecting the civil rights and safety of all Massachusetts residents, could alleviate some of this stress.

The Safe Communities Act, if passed, would prevent local and state officials from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deport people. TPS holders are registered with the federal government and could be easy targets for deportation.

“You have what I would describe as crisis in this country now with Donald Trump focusing the Department of Homeland Security and ICE on deporting immigrants, even those who haven’t broken any laws,” said Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton, sponsor of the Senate bill. “If someone who suddenly has lost their status gets pulled over by the police for speeding, suddenly ICE is asking the police to hold that person which is going to increase the likelihood that Massachusetts residents who had legal status before are going to be deported now.”

The bill hopes to determine what Massachusetts “given its values and immigrant history, can or should … be doing with our resources to make sure we’re not aiding and abetting the deportation agenda,” said Eldridge.

Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a public interest organization that educates lawmakers and the public about immigration policy, disagrees, saying public safety is paramount and “Trump’s is the first administration that has taken immigration seriously as a public safety and national security issue.”

TPS policy was “intended to provide short term relief that has been repeatedly abused allowing immigrants to spend decades here,” O’Brien said, adding the policy covers a lot of people who are uninvited and “unlawfully” in the U.S. and who are probably not working above the table for standard wages.

But Schuyler Pisha, Legal Director of Immigration Department for Catholic Social Services of Fall River, argued that TPS holders are now working in the above-ground economy and taking away their status will force them under the table.

CSS provides legal services for low-income immigrants across Massachusetts including Bristol County. Pisha said the organization represents a lot of people from El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras now working through what options they might have after their TPS expires.

“The most recent person I met who has Haitian TPS came to me wearing scrubs,” Pisha said, noting he works as a medical assistant at a facility for the elderly. “We are experiencing a shortage of people in that profession so he is meeting a need that is important for his community.”

“There would be a tremendous disruption in the Massachusetts workplace and economy if families with TPS were placed in deportation proceedings or removed. You would see the closure of businesses in immigrant and minority communities around the state and lose health care professionals,” added Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes.

The advocacy group partnered with Rep. Christine Barber, D-Somerville, and Rep. Adrian Madaro, D-East Boston, last week to host an educational brief on TPS and call on legislators to show their support for their immigrant communities.

The New Bedford City Council is aware of the situation. “We have been working with people who reached out to us to provide guidance and the correct information about who they can contact,” said City Council President Joseph P. Lopes, adding a resolution to support immigrants was filed in the summer by one of the New Bedford coucilors, but it didn’t have the full support of the body. Only Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston have passed resolutions.

“It makes us nervous to see this climate of anti-immigration,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, the executive director at the Immigrants’ Assistance Center in New Bedford. “Based off of Trump’s words it seems no matter which immigration status people are they seem to be a constant target.”

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the extension of the TPS designation of Haiti for six months this summer, but encouraged Haitians with TPS to “prepare for their return to Haiti in the even Haiti’s designation is not extended again.”

The designation for Haiti will be evaluated by Homeland Security before the status expires on Jan. 22. Experts expect the status, given following Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, to be terminated.

Nationals of El Salvador and Honduras are also concerned. Both countries have enjoyed the designation over 16 years. This summer, El Salvador’s government asked the Trump administration to extend TPS to nearly 200,000 of its nationals living in the U.S.

This is separate from DACA, which Attorney General Jess Sessions ordered ended in early September. That program allowed individuals who entered or stayed in the U.S. illegally as minors to be eligible to work and a renewable two-year postponement of deportation.

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