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December 13, 2017

Federal Action Threatens Safety of Thousands of Virginia Immigrants

Virginians have a lot at stake if Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti are forced to leave the country. More than 90 percent of U.S. residents with TPS are from these countries, and Virginia has the fifth largest TPS population of all states from these three countries. The federal administration and the Department of Homeland Security have recently set (or threatened to set) end dates for people with TPS from multiple countries. Sending people with protected status back would have consequences not only for these communities’ safety, but also our economy.


Removal of TPS holders would cause serious disruptions to state economies where these individuals have built their lives – buying homes, having children, participating in the workforce at very high rates, starting new businesses, volunteering with civic and community organizations at high rates, and contributing to local economies for decades.  


TPS was created in 1990 with bipartisan support to protect vulnerable immigrant populations during events like civil wars and natural disasters. TPS provides eligible foreign-born individuals who are not able to return home safely with a legal status to remain in the United States. Conditions in many of the countries that current TPS holders would be sent back to remain unstable – rife with deep poverty, public health crises, political instability, food shortages, and high unemployment. Some of these conditions result from the very events that forced them to flee in the first place. Moreover, TPS holders have met many of the requirements for lawful permanent residency in the United States. The vast majority are employed, paying taxes, and are integrating well into U.S. communities – taking out mortgages, volunteering, and raising children (many of whom are U.S. citizens). But there is no path for them to gain permanent residency.

Some members of Congress have stepped up to address this issue. There are multiple bipartisan proposals in Congress to provide certain TPS holders with a path to citizenship, but none have picked up significant traction thus far. The ASPIRE Act would provide a path to permanent legal status for current TPS holders who have been in the U.S. for at least five years if they went before a judge and proved that they would face extreme hardship if they returned to their home country. Another bill, the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act, would provide a path to permanent legal status for certain Haitians, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, and Hondurans who arrived in the United States before January 13, 2011. While these are steps in the right direction, neither of these bills would fully protect all TPS holders from deportation back to an unsafe or potentially unstable living situation.

Ending TPS status for hard-working immigrant Virginians who sought refuge in the United States is a cruel and short-sighted move that would upend families and the economy and endanger people’s lives. We need members of Congress to step up and act expeditiously to safeguard this small and vulnerable population.


Chad Stewart

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