Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joined a top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee on calling for the Department of Homeland Security to extend Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Irma.
"I support extending TPS to the folks living in the U.S. who are from nations impacted by Hurricane Irma," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "For them to go back to their areas that have been devastated by Irma would not be constructive because the infrastructure is not able to sustain the economy. Jobs would be impossible for them to get and if they are granted TPS here, they can earn a living and pay taxes to help our economy."
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., also issued a statement on Thursday expressing support for allowing Caribbean citizens from places in Irma's wake to temporarily stay in the United States.
“I am heartbroken by the loss of life and damage caused by Hurricane Irma, even as the storm still churns toward the United States mainland," Engel said in a statement. "Images from the island of Barbuda—reportedly no longer habitable—are especially haunting. I urge the Trump Administration to assist our friends in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico with all available resources. In particular, the Administration must provide Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean citizens who lived directly in Irma’s destructive path but are currently residing in the United States and unable to return to their home countries. I plan to lead efforts to ensure that this happens. Congress must also get to work to make sure any needed disaster relief assistance is quickly appropriated for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean region where Irma did heavy damage."
The TPS program allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. President Donald Trump, who continues to espouse a tough-on-immigration line, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to another country.
One of the 10 countries on the TPS list, Haiti, lies within Irma's path. Other countries impacted by Irma include Antigua and Barbuda and the Dominican Republic, along with overseas territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by Irma, though residents there are U.S. citizens and not subject to TPS.
Engel cited a 2016 law he co-authored with Ros-Lehtinen as justification for extending TPS to the Caribbean.
“Earlier this year, the State Department and USAID released the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in the Caribbean, mandated by a law that I authored with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen," Engel said in a statement. "This strategy promises renewed engagement with the region and strengthened resilience against natural disasters. I urge the Administration to move quickly to respond to Hurricane Irma and then support the Caribbean in preparing for future emergencies."