Will America protect Hondurans?

A show of solidarity last week between Honduras’ new president, Xiomara Castro, and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris could signal a greater chance that the Biden administration will renew Temporary Protected Status for Honduran immigrants in the U.S. before it expires at the end of the year.

Harris attended Castro’s inauguration in the capital Tegucigalpa, meeting privately with the Central American leader who identifies as a pro-reform democratic socialist. Harris’ presence as a high-ranking official at the inauguration was considered by the new Honduran administration a good omen for TPS renewal. 

The Biden administration is also looking to Central American countries to cooperate on immigration issues, particularly on border enforcement, but has been largely rebuffed by El Salvador and Guatemala. TPS renewal could make Honduras more receptive to helping curb migration from Central America into Mexico and subsequently into the United States. 

According to FIU College of Law Professor Ediberto Román, the Honduran president’s left-leaning politics might not lead to a thriving economy, however, it could provide a more stable relationship between the U.S. and Honduras on immigration policy.

“This is resulting from an environmental problem, but the consequences; economic strife and political upheaval, haven’t changed much,” said Román. “There is new hope with a new presidency in Honduras, but it’s going to take a while, and I don’t believe the economic circumstances will change rapidly enough, certainly not before the end of this upcoming year for the TPS not to be granted.”

Temporary Protected Status is a designation established by the U.S. Congress in 1990 and given to nationals of certain countries living in the United States who were affected by natural disasters or wars in their native country. TPS allows them to legally live and work in the United States for a certain amount of time and is renewable every 18 months.  

The then-Clinton administration extended TPS for Honduras after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998. Nationals from several countries are under TPS, including three from Central America – El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and one from South America – Venezuela. There are close to 58,000 Honduran nationals with TPS in the United States, including 7,800 in Florida. 

The Trump administration attempted to end TPS for all beneficiaries but was blocked by several lawsuits. Last August, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the extension of the TPS registration periods from 180 days to up to 18 months for new applicants. 

“This suggests a more lenient approach with respect to TPS. Mayorkas’ designation was referring to Syrians but the belief is that the TPS will be extended. It’s just not ripe yet in the context of Honduras,” Román said, adding, “The most important aspect of it is that it provides them automatic acceptance and renewal of employment authorization. So these people are not in the shadows and are direct legal contributors to our economy.”

The renewal of TPS for Hondurans has bipartisan support. TPS for El Salvador and Guatemala is also up for renewal this year, and around 30 senators sent a letter last week to President Biden urging that TPS be extended again.

“The crisis in Central America is urgent. TPS designations and redesignations would provide critical protections for eligible beneficiaries and enable them to support basic needs of loved ones back home and invest in safer alternatives to irregular migration,” the letter says. “It is our assessment that the severe damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes just over one year ago, combined with extreme drought conditions, and the social and economic crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, warrant such an action by the Administration.” 

Biden and congressional Democrats have proposed allowing TPS holders who meet eligibility requirements to apply for a green card and subsequent citizenship – but that legislation has not moved in Congress. 

Taylor Gutierrez is a Cuban-American digital journalism student and intends to pursue a career as a multimedia journalist, combining her passions for writing and photography. Gutierrez currently works as a Communications Associate for FIU's Institute of Environment where she discusses issues within the field of environmental science. She hopes her writing will help bridge the gap in communication between media consumers and the scientific research community.