The incoming Biden administration is considering a plan to protect more than a million immigrants who fled Central American countries Honduras and Guatemala to the US after they were battered by hurricanes in November.
US president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team is considering whether to grant them temporary protected status (TPS) which would save them from being deported.
The TPS programme allows people already in the US 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.
TPS covers immigrants in the US both illegally and those on visas.
If Biden’s 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.
This would be a sharp departure from the administration of President Donald Trump who attempted to phase out use of TPS and similar schemes.
Biden’s campaign called Trump’s attempts to roll back TPS “politically motivated” and said Biden would not return people to unsafe countries.
The two hurricanes that devastated Honduras forced more than 300,000 to be evacuated from their homes. More than 125,000 are still displaced in shelters, according to the Honduran government.
In Guatemala, the storms killed dozens of people, destroyed roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and inundated farmland exacerbating a growing hunger crisis.
The governments of both Honduras and Guatemala have called on the incoming administration to issue new TPS designations for their nationals already in the US.
In Texas, 42-year-old Margarita Rivera, a Honduran immigrant living illegally and working at a cake shop, told Reuters flooding was so devastating in her hometown along the northern coast that many of her neighbours lost their homes and had to be rescued by boat.
“I would love if TPS were approved,” she said, explaining that it would be extremely difficult for her to survive and make ends meet in Honduras if she were deported from the US.
However, US immigration and border officials are concerned about the effects of a possible major surge in migration from Central America in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.