Supervisor Hillary Ronen on Tuesday planned to introduce a resolution urging the U.S. government to extend a renewable program granting temporary protected immigration status to residents of 13 countries afflicted by war or environmental disaster. (Erik McGregor/Sipa USA/TNS)

SF lawmaker urges protections for immigrants escaping crises

San Francisco leaders and immigrant rights activists are calling on the federal government to extend a renewable program granting temporary protected immigration status to residents of 13 countries afflicted by war or environmental disaster.

Of the some 55,000 Temporary Protected Status beneficiaries in California, between 10,000 and 20,000 are estimated to live in San Francisco. On Tuesday, Supervisor Hillary Ronen will introduce a resolution urging national leaders to extend the program for all 13 countries currently granted the status.

“Beneficiaries have legal permission to work in the United States, which is a big deal,” said Ronen, who is seeking support from her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors in her appeal to the federal government to not only extend the program, but to offer a path to citizenship for individuals depending on it.

“As soon as next week they could announce potential changes to Central American countries — many [Central American beneficiaries] live in my district,” she said. “This is a very present issue and fear in the life of any of my constituents. It’s a priority for us.”

The resolution follows the federal government’s announcement in May that Haitian immigrants with temporary protected status could be directed to Haiti come January, despite the country’s ongoing strife following a devastating earthquake in 2010.

Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador are among the 13 countries protected under TPS, which the federal government reviews and extends every 18 months. Those countries are facing expirations of their TPS designations in the spring.

Countries struggling with ongoing armed conflict, natural disaster or “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that prevent the safe return of their nationals can be designated for TPS by the Homeland Security secretary. The program provides beneficiaries with work permits and access to education.

“Many have nothing to return to. They have built lives here and have U.S.-born children,” said Lariza Dugan Cuadra, executive director of the Central American Resource Center, about the program established in 1990.

Ending TPS would not only disrupt the lives of immigrants in the U.S., but force many into dangerous circumstances in their countries of origin, Dugan Cuadra said.

“The idea that the a program would be eliminated without an alternative is ludicrous. It’s total scapegoating of immigrant communities all over,” she said.

Ronen’s resolution speaks to the contributions made by TPS holders to the local and national economy.

Their deportations would amount to a “projected $45 billion reduction to the national GDP over a decade, $6.9 billion in lost Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade, $1 billion in turnover costs to businesses,” according to the resolution, and deporting TPS holders from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would come at the cost of $3.1 billion to the federal government.

While the resolution cannot offer special protections to local TPS holders, its supporters hope it will inspire solidarity and support from communities throughout The City.

“It’s a call for the federal government to recognize this population’s contributions to our culture and society and a way to firm our city’s values,” Dugan Cuadra said, and added that current TPS holders should not be deterred from extending their statuses or from seeking immigration counsel.

“If the program is extended for just six months, or less time, they should still come out to renew it,” she said. “Our message is to remember that anybody in this country has rights — they should be informed what their options are.”

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