Church’s ‘A Closer Look’ on immigration series addresses Temporary Protected Status

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted May 14, 2024

During The Episcopal Church’s May 10, 2024 webinar, “A Closer Look: U.S. Immigration Policy and Temporary Protected Status,” participants learned about Temporary Protected Status, various visa categories, pathways to legal status and the role of federal agencies in administering the immigration system. Photo: Screenshot

[Episcopal News Service] Under the federal Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian program, migrants fleeing countries designated unsafe to live in may be granted temporary residence and work privileges in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security determines which countries are considered unsafe for reasons related to ongoing armed conflict, a natural disaster or “extraordinary and temporary” conditions that prevent their citizens from returning safely.

To help Episcopalians understand how the TPS program operates, The Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations hosted the third in a virtual three-part series on immigration on May 10. Eighty-three people attended the hourlong “A Closer Look: U.S. Immigration Policy and Temporary Protected Status.”

Watch the entire webinar here.

Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration policy for the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center, provided a broad overview of U.S. immigration laws and regulations, including various visa categories, pathways to legal status and the role of federal agencies. The U.S. immigration system is “complicated,” she said, because the overseeing government agencies “don’t always work well together.”

“One of the major challenges we’re facing on the legislative, executive and on the immigration policy landscape, is how we manage the arrivals of asylum-seekers and others at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Brown said.

Asylum-seekers and refugees leave their homes for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to war, violence and persecution over race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. As of Oct. 31, 2023, the most recent figures available, nearly 1.06 million people have open asylum claims in the United States, and the federal government’s backlog exceeded 10 million applications in 2023.

Although the terms migrants and asylum-seekers are often used interchangeably, not all migrants are asylum-seekers. The latter are people seeking protection from persecution or violence but who haven’t yet been legally recognized as refugees.

Brown highlighted the five separate government agencies involved with overseeing U.S. immigration policy: the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice.

The Department of Homeland Security oversees Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Department of Labor issues green cards or temporary work visas to select foreign nationals applying to work in the United States. The Department of State oversees all U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide, which are responsible for issuing U.S. visas to people wishing to enter the United States. Health and Human Services is responsible not only for resettling refugees entering the United States, but also for managing arrivals of unaccompanied children after they are released from Border Patrol. The Department of Justice manages immigration courts in the United States.

“A system requires handoffs between one agency and another, and between one government department and another, and they don’t always coordinate well, which results in inefficiencies and problems with the system as a whole,” Brown said.

Brown also explained the four major ways people can obtain a green card: being sponsored by a family member who’s a U.S. citizen or green card holder; being hired by an employer willing to sponsor foreign nationals; entering through the humanitarian system that can convert a refugee or asylum status into a green card after some time; or through the Diversity Visa Program, which is a lottery system.

“The complexity is so little understood by not just migrants, but also people trying to navigate the system,” Brown said. “We have a challenge in helping people understand these complexities when we’re trying to advocate for change.”

Some programs, like TPS, don’t provide a path to U.S. citizenship and are only granted to people who are already in the United States when their home country’s designation is made. Additionally, not everyone from a designated country is guaranteed temporary protected status.

People with TPS can renew during their country’s designated re-registration period.

As of this month, the TPS program is open to migrants from Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and Yemen.

Under the Biden administration, some citizens of the countries listed under the TPS program, such as Afghanistan and Ukraine, qualify to enter the United States through special humanitarian parole program, including Operation Allies, Uniting for Ukraine and others. Although Cuba isn’t on the updated TPS countries, Cuban nationals may still apply to enter the United States through the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program or the Processes for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans program.

“You can’t go directly from parole to a green card, but [these programs] allow somebody who otherwise would not have been able to get a visa or is inadmissible under one of the grounds of inadmissibility in our law … to be admitted,” Brown said.

Webinar participants were able to ask questions using Zoom’s chat function. One person asked what happens to people whose employment authorization expires while waiting to renew their TPS. 

“Employers that are abiding by the law … have to recheck that document before the expiration date to continue employing somebody,” Brown said. “We’ve had situations where people have had to leave employment because their employment authorization documents weren’t renewed in time, and when they get them and go back to the employer and say they’re not work authorized, [the employers] are like, ‘Sorry, we filled the job with someone else. You must go elsewhere.’”

Another person asked Brown if she thinks immigration advocates spending time working with TPS is worthwhile.

“A change of administration can mean a change in designations. A new administration can decide to end TPS for any country at any time. As a matter of fact, President Trump tried to end TPS for all countries that were designated,” Brown said. “To advocate on behalf of people, certainly you should look at available options. …In the long run, in terms of focusing energy … focusing too much on administrative action lets Congress off the hook.”

Rebecca Linder Blachly, director of the Office of Government Relations, mentioned during the webinar that Episcopal Migration Ministries extensively works with refugee resettlement. It’s one of 10 resettlement agencies in the United States along with the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee services, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and others.

In 2023, Episcopal Migration Ministries launched the Rainbow Initiative to help bring attention to the special needs of LGBTIQ+ migrants who not only face persecution, discrimination and violence in their home countries, but also often in the countries where they seek asylum and resettlement. On May 13, Episcopal Migration Ministries hosted a Rainbow Initiative Learning Community webinar to highlight upcoming events observing Pride Month and World Refugee Day in June.

The Episcopal Church has a long history of advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. Episcopalians interested in learning more about the church’s advocacy efforts can visit the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s website.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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