Immigrants Watch the Hill -- and the Clock

The Rev. Ramon Baez issued an urgent plea from the pulpit to his Nicaraguan and Honduran parishioners in Baileys Crossroads to renew their Temporary Protected Status permits before the June 1 deadline.
The Rev. Ramon Baez issued an urgent plea from the pulpit to his Nicaraguan and Honduran parishioners in Baileys Crossroads to renew their Temporary Protected Status permits before the June 1 deadline. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 19, 2006

It was the end of Sunday Mass, and the Rev. Ramon Baez looked out at the sea of Latino faces. He called on all the Hondurans and Nicaraguans to listen. Then, he made an unusual plea: "You have to renew your TPS before June 1st. Or it is gone."

With less than two weeks left, tens of thousands of Hondurans and Nicaraguans nationwide have yet to meet a June 1 deadline to renew their work permits through the TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, program, which allows them to live and work legally in the United States for another year.

Many Hondurans and Nicaraguans, immigrant advocates said, are not renewing their permits because they think that by month's end the Bush administration will have pushed through historic immigration legislation, including a guest-worker program that would clear the way for many workers to become legal.

Guadalupe Boquin, 37, a Honduran in Baez's congregation, wondered whether enough people would listen to Baez to make a difference. Those who don't renew risk losing jobs with decent pay, entering the illegal shadow economy, even deportation. They also risk the subsistence of several hundred thousand relatives who depend on their salaries here and in their homelands.

And Boquin understood why.

"They are waiting for the possible amnesty," said the mother of two from Honduras after the service at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Baileys Crossroads last weekend. "President Bush, they say, supports us."

Immense hope has been generated among some immigrants by the launch of a national immigrant rights movement, huge protest rallies across the country and the perception, fueled largely by Spanish-language media, that the Bush administration backs their cause.

But this hope, coupled with a misunderstanding about the way the U.S. political system works, could turn disastrous, according to immigrant advocates, community and church leaders and Central American diplomats.

"We are pretty concerned," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group. "People are waiting for a comprehensive immigration reform. They are assuming it's going to be a much better deal in getting citizenship. But there's still a long way to go."

Father Brian Jordan of the Franciscan Immigration Center in New York said many immigrants typically wait until the last days to renew their permits. But this time, "people are being swayed by false optimism that the new immigration law will be in effect by June 1," he said.

Senators are tussling over which illegal immigrants will have a chance at citizenship, among other issues. It is far from certain how a final comprehensive immigration bill, which faces tough scrutiny in the House as well, will look.

Temporary Protected Status is intended to help immigrants who have difficulty returning to their homelands because of civil conflict or natural disaster. Critics who favor stricter immigration controls argue that beneficiaries often arrive here illegally and are allowed to stay long after the crises back home have ended.


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