Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Tegucigalpa on Thursday for the inauguration of Xiomara Castro, the first female president in Honduran history.
The start of Castro’s presidency also marks the end of a right-wing regime that came to power in a 2009 coup.
Today I am traveling to Tegucigalpa, Honduras to attend the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro. Our relationship with Honduras is an important one. We will meet later today to discuss deepening our cooperation across a broad range of issues between our two nations.
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) January 27, 2022
Rarely does a U.S. vice president attend an inauguration in Latin America —“especially to a small country like Honduras,” writes NPR’s Franco Ordoñez— and many see Harris’ trip as a sign that Washington intends to work closely with Honduras and other Central American countries to stem the flow of migration northward.
Honduras and neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala make up Central America’s so-called “Northern Triangle,” where the vast majority of asylum seekers have originated in recent years.
After winning in November, Castro laid out her agenda, which includes providing better health care, education and job opportunities for the people of Honduras, as well as fighting government corruption.
“Those are the things that we want to partner with her on,” a senior administration official said. “We believe they are good for the people of Honduras, good for the region and good for U.S. priorities in terms of our overall partnership, as well as our specific goals on root causes” of migration.
But many Honduran immigrants living in the United States are hoping Washington does something more for their homeland—namely, expanding the Temporary Protected Status program to Honduras.
“[Vice President Harris] is well aware of the executive power her administration has at hand,” said Jessika Girón, a Honduran TPS holder and a member of the TPS Committee of Morristown, New Jersey, as quoted by the National TPS Alliance. “If the Biden administration seeks to immediately address the root causes of migration, they must first re-designate and expand the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Honduras, for Central America and for millions who continue to escape instability in their native countries.”
“The Department of Homeland Security extends Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to individuals from a country enduring conditions that prevent the person from returning safely, such as a natural disaster or armed conflict,” the National TPS Alliance explains on its website. “TPS is a conditional status that requires periodic renewal and entitles the recipient to a work permit, protection from deportation, and authorization to travel abroad. Renewal is at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security, which determines whether the conditions that prevented the person’s return persist.”
“As Hondurans continue to escape unstable conditions left behind by corrupt governments, ongoing poverty and violence, and recent natural catastrophes, this administration must do more!” said Honduran TPS holder Delmy Gomez, a member of the TPS Committee in Dallas, Texas. “Improving conditions in our native countries must include the advancement of rights for the millions of migrants already in the United States.”
In November 2020, nearly a year into the COVID pandemic, Honduras was slammed by two hurricanes, Eta and Iota, which together killed about 100 Hondurans and caused more than $10 billion in damage. Some Catrachos claimed the combined hurricanes were worst than Mitch, the second-deadliest Atlantic storm in history, which tore across Honduras in late October 1998, killing around 7,000 Hondurans —and nearly 4,000 Nicaraguans— and causing $3.8 billion in damage.
In December of that year, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the predecessor of today’s immigration agencies, made Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants living in the United States eligible for Temporary Protected Status, which they had to apply for in order to stay in the country for 18 months and receive work permits.
On January 10 of this year, 29 Democratic senators signed a letter addressed to Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and State Secretary Antony Blinken, calling on them to grant TPS redesignations for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as a new designation for Guatemala.
“We write to express our concerns about ongoing humanitarian needs in Central America,” read the letter. “It is our assessment that the severe damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes just over one year ago, combined with extreme drought conditions, and the social and economic crises exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, warrant” TPS designations for the affected countries.
“Such designations would be consistent with the Administration’s commitments to address climate migration,” the senators added.
“For Hondurans both at home and in the diaspora, today marks a moment of much-needed change,” said Honduran TPS holder Teofilo Martinez, a member of the TPS Committee in Georgia. “Surely, true progress will take years but today’s inauguration is a step forward for democracy in a country which has endured through conditions that continue to cause massive waves of migration.”