By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats are urging the Biden administration to allow at least 2 million immigrants in the country illegally to prolong their stay and to prevent deportation to home countries where natural disasters and crises prevent their safe return.
They want President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, to take executive action to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Central American immigrants from Guatemala and expand eligibility for those from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Senator Robert Menendez and more than 30 fellow Democrats wrote to top administration officials calling on them to act after a failed push last year to pass immigration reform during Biden's first year in office.
Arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border reached record highs https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-under-pressure-us-mexico-border-arrests-reach-record-highs-2021-10-20 last year, fueled by new arrivals from Central America.
TPS allows people already in the United States at the time of the designation 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.
The designations, which are issued by the secretary of homeland security, last six to 18 months and can be renewed indefinitely.
"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," the lawmakers wrote in the letter seen by Reuters.
More than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua already have TPS.
Under the proposal, at least another 2 million immigrants from the region could be eligible for deportation relief, according to an estimate generated early last year by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
The estimate did not account for the high volume of border crossings in 2021 and the Menendez-led letter did not say how many people could be eligible.
Critics contend the temporary protections encourage more illegal entries.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Howard Goller)