MIAMI, FL - MAY 13: People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13, 2017 in Miami, Florida. 50,000 Haitians have been eligible for TPS and now the Trump administration has until May 23 to make a decision on extending TPS for Haitians or allowing it to expire on July 22 which would mean possibly deportation for the current TPS holders. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Long-time TPS holders hope Biden will make them official Americans 

By Jonathan Greig

People protest the possibility that the Trump administration may overturn the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office on May 13, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rhode Island nurse Rose Tilus spent last April, May and June working in a community hospital’s COVID-19 unit. She caught the deadly disease herself, but recovered and went back to work. And she did it all while watching the Trump administration try to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program that permits her to live and work here.

“The shadow of being a TPS holder never goes away, [because] there is no guarantee that you’re going to be renewed again for next time,” said Tilus, adding that she cried often from the stress and fear of deportation. “It would be in our interest and the country’s interest [if] we could become permanent residents. We have been citizens of this country without the papers.”

Now, with President-elect Joe Biden set to take office in January, many TPS holders like Tilus hope they will be closer to having their status become permanent or stabilized. Since TPS is set to end for the 55,338 Haitians with that status, they also hope that Biden, 78, will prioritize immigration decisions from the moment he steps into the White House.

“We are hoping that we can not only have our legal residency but are looking for a path to citizenship,” said James Louis, a married father-of-two living in West Palm Beach, Florida. “With everything we’ve seen over the last four years, we all can tell that there is a need to change the immigration system.”

For Louis, the last four years have been filled with pain, fear and confusion as President Donald Trump changed the country’s immigration policies with a slew of executive actions that were then challenged in court for their illegality. 

Trump controversially ended the TPS program for the 400,000 people in the program from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua, Nepal, Honduras and Haiti. Despite lawsuits and appeals, most will not be able to renew their work authorization documents if action is not taken by Jan. 4, 2021. Legal protections for Haitians are set to end on March 5

Biden, as a candidate, called the Trump action “a recipe for disaster” and vowed to offer a path to citizenship through legislative immigration reform. In his first 100 days, Biden said he plans to “order an immediate review of Temporary Protected Status” and advocates believe he will make sure to extend the TPS program while working on long-term solutions.

As President-elect Biden announces his cabinet, TPS holders are cautiously optimistic about the picks for agencies most likely to affect them. Signs such as Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban-American who helped create the DACA program under Barack Obama, to run the Department of Homeland Security.

Also, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the DREAM and Promise Act of 2019 that would give TPS holders permanent resident status and a path to citizenship. The bill has languished in the Republican-led Senate to date. 

Tilus said all she is looking for is to live without worry about her status. After going to school, graduating and finding employment under TPS, Tilus said she works hard to pay the country back through taxes and other contributions for the opportunity.

“I’m grateful that TPS was granted to Haitian nationals and I’m grateful it was granted to me,” Tilus said. “We don’t want it taken away.”

Corinne G., a college student in Florida, said she has not been able to access financial aid to pursue her education because of her TPS status. She also stopped working for a while because she was afraid to be found out.

“I’ve just been going to school and working and contributing in the community,” Corinne said. “I’m looking for residency and citizenship because I have been in this country for 10-plus years with my family.”

Jonathan Greig is a journalist based in New York City working as a contributing writer for CBS Interactive. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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