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Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley join refugees, activists to protest for permanent TPS protections

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hundreds of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and their allies braved cold, rainy weather to gather in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, to demand that the Trump administration take action on a path to citizenship for members of their community.

Chanting “The people united will never be defeated” and “We are immigrants, not criminals,” demonstrators filled Lafayette Park, steps from the White House. Some spoke of their contributions to the country.

“We don’t ask anything from anybody,” Jose Palma, a 21-year resident of the United States and TPS holder from El Salvador, told the crowd in Spanish. “We are not criminals […]. I work in industrial construction. My hands build tall, important buildings. We just want permanent residency.”

Joining the demonstrators were two progressive members of the congressional freshman class, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). Both women represent diverse communities and have constituents that could lose the lives they’ve built for themselves over the last few decades if they lose their TPS protections and are forced to leave the country.

“I will continue to fight so that the people who built this country will stay in this country,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd, wearing a TPS Alliance beanie. “From Nepal to Honduras, the United States has made a promise that this country will be a safe haven.”

Pressley called herself a “sister in solidarity” and vowed to protect her constituents who are facing uncertainty.

“The pursuit of justice is never easy,” Pressley said, “but we’ll keep fighting.”

Last year, the Trump administration revoked TPS protections, which grant temporary relief from deportation to individuals fleeing countries ravaged by natural disasters or disease, for hundreds of thousands of recipients from countries like El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. Other TPS designated countries, including Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Nepal, are still covered, but their protections will expire by 2020.

Bringing an end to TPS would have long-lasting effects on more than half a million people in the United States who live in a household with a TPS holder, according to report from the Center for American Progress (CAP). (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed within the Center for American Progress.) It would also have sizable impact on the economy, as TPS holders have a labor participation rate of 87 percent. The majority work in manual labor as carpenters or construction workers.

Additionally, households with TPS holders contribute $2.3 billion in federal taxes and $1.3 billion in state and local taxes annually. They hold more than $10.1 billion in spending power.

Members of the Brotherhood of Carpenters union support comprehensive immigration reform that protects their members (Credit: Rebekah Entralgo)

One group that could be impacted for generations to come are the more than 279,000 U.S. citizen children living in mixed-citizenship households.

As CAP outlined in its report, there are three scenarios facing TPS families with U.S.-born children, all of which would be detrimental to their wellbeing.

In the first scenario, parents with TPS designations are returned to their country of origin, many after living in the United States for an average of 22 years, without their U.S. citizen children. This would result in a cruel form of family separation, similar to the kind implemented by the administration last year at the U.S.-Mexico border, and would undoubtedly cause economic instability and emotional trauma.

In the second scenario, parents with protected status are returned to their country of origin, but bring their U.S. citizen children with them to countries facing persistent economic and sociological challenges — countries with which their children may be largely unfamiliar. The report notes the State Department has already “issued travel warnings due to crime and civil unrest in El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti” and sending them back to those countries could pose significant threats.

The third scenario facing TPS holders would mean living in constant fear of deportation.  Parents would remain in the United States, but would no longer be protected.

None of the options provide a path to citizenship for TPS holders, which immigration activists say is the only option. Without permanent residency, the lives of TPS holders are in constant limbo, and fears of deportation weigh heavily on each member of their households, especially young children.

“Even the potential threat of separation can cause children emotional distress,” the CAP report states. “Studies show that children of immigrants experience feelings of vulnerability and fear of deportation and can experience psychological distress after simply hearing about families who are separated.”

Some lawmakers have tried to introduce legislation to permanently protect TPS holders, though their efforts have largely fallen flat.

In late 2017, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) introduced a bill, called the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and Emergency (SECURE) Act, which would have allowed TPS holders to apply for lawful permanent resident status. The bill had support from Democrats who viewed it as a fix to the crisis Trump created when he announced his plan to end TPS, but failed to make it past committee due to pushback from Republicans, who have consistently opposed any immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship.

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