By R. Mark Frey
Last month on November 8, Typhoon Haiyan hammered the Philippines with winds estimated to reach almost 150 mph and waves approaching 50 feet, making it one of the strongest storms ever recorded and references to it as Super Typhoon Haiyan. The destruction has been so extensive that almost four million people are believed to have been displaced at the storm’s peak and several thousand residents either dead or missing in its wake. Current estimates of the cost to rebuild the devastated areas are $3 billion over the next three to five years.
Clearly, this level of destruction has struck a serious blow to the country’s economy and residents’ ability to fend for themselves and their loved ones. And, what of those Filipinos here in the United States in various capacities? Is it reasonable to expect them to return home with so much devastation and want? Does United States law provide safe haven for those peoples from lands devastated by environmental or manmade disasters such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and typhoons or civil wars for that matter?
The answer is yes with a form of relief known as temporary protected status (TPS). More precisely, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security may designate a country for temporary protected status when conditions are such that the country’s nationals cannot return home safely.
Once a country is given TPS designation, those foreign nationals here in the United States receive a temporary form of humanitarian relief from deportation. This is only temporary in nature and does not lead to permanent residence. The period of time for the initial designation typically runs six to 18 months and may be extended if conditions have not improved in the country. While this form of humanitarian relief provides safe haven to the individual TPS recipient in the United States, it also frees the designated TPS country from the burden of returning nationals at a time when it struggles with providing the bare essentials to its domestic population during the restoration process.
Merely being a national of a designated country is insufficient for gaining the relief of TPS. Certain eligibility criteria must initially be met. Those criteria include:
• Proof that one is a national of the country designated for TPS, or a person without a nationality who last habitually resided in that country;
• Register during the initial registration period;
• Show continuous physical presence in the United States since the effective date of the TPS designation; and
• Show continuous residence in the United States since the date specified in the designation.
Even if one meets the criteria, it may still be inadequate if certain factors are present. Such factors include but are not restricted to the following:
• Conviction(s) for a felony or two or more misdemeanors in the United States;
• Inadmissible to the United States based on certain criminal and security-related grounds;
• Persecuted others under certain circumstances, convicted of a very serious crime such as an aggravated felony, committed a serious nonpolitical crime outside the United States, currently presents a threat to the security of the United States, or participated in terrorist activities.
Countries currently designated as TPS:
• El Salvador
• South Sudan
If one is granted TPS, what relief is available?
First, the TPS recipient is not removable from the United States as long as the country continues to hold TPS designation. Second, one may apply for and receive work authorization while the country holds TPS designation. Thirdly and finally, one may be granted travel authorization while holding TPS; that is, apply for and receive permission to travel abroad and return to the United States.
So, what about the Philippines? Given the extent of the country’s devastation, it seems appropriate to ask the US government to designate it for temporary protected status. Many individuals (Filipino and non-Filipino alike) and a wide variety of organizations are in fact contacting members of Congress about this matter.
Although Congress is not the body empowered to make decisions about TPS designation, its members are being asked to contact the Department of Homeland Security about TPS designation for the Philippines. Minnesota readers may call members of their Congressional delegation about this important matter:
• Sen. Amy Klobuchar (202) 224-3244
• Sen. Al Franken
• Rep. Timothy J. Walz (202) 225-2472 (1st Dist)
• Rep. John Kline
(202) 225-2271 (2nd Dist)
• Rep. Erik Paulsen
(202) 225-2871 (3rd Dist)
• Rep. Betty McCollum (202) 225-6631 (4th Dist)
• Rep. Keith Ellison
(202) 225-4755 (5th Dist)
• Rep. Michele Bachmann (202) 225-2331 (6th Dist)
• Rep. Collin C. Peterson (202) 225-2165 (7th Dist)
• Rep. Rick Nolan
(202) 225-6211 (8th Dist)
For those readers located elsewhere, consider contacting members of your own state’s Congressional delegation.
Make a call. They’ll listen.
R. Mark Frey is a St. Paul, Minnesota attorney who has been practicing immigration law exclusively for 25 years with an emphasis on political asylum, family immigration, naturalization, removal defense, and appeals as well as H-1B and religious worker visas.