Ending Temporary Protected Status for Hondurans This Time


Women and their children walk on the tarmac after being deported from the U.S., at the Ramon Villeda international airport in San Pedro Sula on July 14, 2014.
Women and their children walk on the tarmac after being deported from the U.S., at the Ramon Villeda international airport in San Pedro Sula on July 14, 2014.
Presidential House/Reuters

New Orleans     When you drive near the river in San Pedro Sula, Honduras and look down along the banks, you can still see signs of the hurricane that swept through the city and the country making tens of thousands homeless almost twenty years ago in 1999.  In my first trips to the city as we organized ACORN there, I could still see signs of current encampments of squatters.  Many things in San Pedro Sula, the industrial and maquila heart of Honduras, have changed in recent decades but the footprint of the hurricane’s devastation is still easy to follow there.

It is also easy to follow in the United States.  New Orleans was the city that became destination and then home to more Hondurans than any other in the United States.  I can often share stories with local business people and construction workers in my neighborhood as we tell stories of Jesus Maria, Choloma, and other working-class suburbs outside of San Pedro Sula or places near Tegucigalpa where ACORN also has numerous chapters and thousands of members.  An intern working with us during the spring semester from Tulane shared the fact that her father was from San Pedro Sula.

There have been many changes in Honduras in recent years.  Looking past the golipista coup of recent years in the recent election ACORN supported candidates and some of our members were elected as mayors or council members in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa as well as several of the suburbs of San Pedro Sula.  We have won potable water in some places.  We have gotten agreements to build community centers and pave roads.  This is real progress.  At the same time our largest campaign, especially in San Pedro Sula, we euphemistically refer to as “security,” but what we really mean is dealing with the violence, crime, gangs, and fear in many of neighborhoods.  Particularly difficult is dealing with the collateral damage of families broken apart and sending children to the border at the cost of $4 to 5000 US dollars, and then sometimes have to raise additional money when they are turned back and sent home.

The Trump administration has already ended temporary protected status or TPS as it is called for more than 300,000 people legally in the United States because of disasters, war, and other issues.  TPS has been terminated for Salvadorans, Haitians, Nepalese, and Nicaraguans already.  Now more than 80,000 Hondurans have heard that TPS is ending for them as well.  According to the Times the Center for Migration Studies says that Honduras with TPS “have 53,500 American-born children; 85% participate in the labor force, compared with 63% of the overall US population, and nearly 20% have mortgages.”  This doesn’t count the number of families in Honduras who depend on remittances from their US relatives to provide income stability.  They have until January 2020, the usual 18 months that others were given to get their affairs together and return to Honduras.

As I think about this I am preparing for a call with ACORN’s Honduran organizers to plan for the impact of families returning and in-country, but even while doing so, I have to wonder at a policy that is guaranteed no matter what the administration claims to create a whole new class of less than legal immigrants in the United States, who have been legal in the country and embedded in their communities and will now find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place somewhere between home and underground.

This won’t end well.

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Shout Out to Deportation Fighters!

New Orleans   There are a lot of very hard organizing jobs in the country these days, but it’s a feat to claim that any organizers are tasked with a more difficult and heartbreaking struggle than preventing deportations of undocumented people from the United States. Organizers like to win, but the immigrant rights organizations and their organizers claim their victories in the hundreds while witnessing deportations carried out swiftly in the thousands. This is not a new struggle, but in the age of Trump, it is getting more attention. In that vein it was good to see a featured story in the New York Times Magazine by Marcela Valdes entitled “Is It Possible to Resist Deportations in the Age of Trump?” The answer in the piece was “yes,” but not often, and frequently when there is some success it is thanks to efforts by organizations like Puente in Arizona, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) nationally, and organizers like Carlos Garcia, who directs Puente.

I was fortunate to be working in Phoenix regularly before and after the passage of the draconian SB 1070 by Republican legislators attacking immigrants and clearly targeting all Hispanics in the process and often intersected with NDLON during that process and got to visit frequently with Garcia. Their boycott of Arizona cost the state “over $200 million in canceled business conferences,” according to the Times, but more powerfully they were the face and force of resistance in Arizona. NDLON and Puente argued that Arizona was in effect the “Mississippi” of the immigrant rights movement. In the warm glow of the aftermath of the Obama election in 2008, when I was doing a bit of work with several immigrant rights organizations, they were often one of the few and loudest voices pointing out that the emperor was wearing no clothes and that investments and strategic resources needed to focus on resistance and that ground zero was Arizona, even when they were drowned out too often by beltway advocates and money handlers. In the hopes of winning critically needed reform on immigration, many advocates wanted a more muted response to the record breaking level of deportations under Obama’s ICE and Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Communities Act which enabled Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reign of terror. In Arizona, the world looked different and organizers had to respond on the frontlines.

Garcia and Puente’s organizing strategy in the wake of this crisis was classic community organizing translated into effective resistance by creating neighborhood defense committees or comites del barrio like those in Cuba and Nicaragua in order to build a base for real resistance among threatened families. Building such house-to-house strength in recent years required huge courage for immigrants to know and stand up for their rights, and paved the way for the more intense direct action required these days.

The stories of immigrant families being torn asunder in this national eviction are rending and dispiriting, but the terribly difficult work of these organizers and organizations is inspiring. In my house my well-worn “Legalize Arizona” t-shirt from the great Phoenix march against SB 1070 and Arpaio is worn more gingerly now, and we need a new one these days, but it should now say, Legalize America.

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