October 21, 2005

Guatemalans Welcome Temporary Protection Status

Negotiations continue with U.S. government

By José A. Álvarez

Norma Maribel Fuentes is not an undocumented immigrant, but she used to be. Twenty years ago, she left her native Guatemala and came to the United States illegally. Life in the U.S. was not easy, neither was finding a job. That’s why when she learned that President Óscar Berger had asked the U.S. government for a Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for Guatemalans residing in this country illegally, she was elated.

“It would be a great benefit for Guatemalans,” said Fuentes, a San Diego resident and owner of a Guatemalan market in City Heights. “The crisis in Guatemala is severe.”

The catastrophe created by Hurricane Stan prompted Berger last week to ask President George W. Bush to grant undocumented Guatemalans in the U.S. the benefit of TPS, which would allow them to reside and work legally.

“I told him that it was the best contribution he could make for our country, as a symbol for our brothers that live abroad, but who represent an enormous support for the country’s economy,” Berger said he told Bush when the U.S. President called him to ratify his support for rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Stan. “I informed him that the circumstances Guatemala is now experiencing will give us that classification,” added Berger in his presidential website.

The Temporary Protection Status is a provisional immigration status granted to eligible people from countries going through an internal armed conflict, a natural disaster, or other extraordinary temporary conditions. The TPS would allow participants to obtain a work permit, even though they are not authorized to leave the country. The TPS does not lead to permanent residency.

Hurricane Stan brought death and destruction to Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Guatemala suffered the greatest human loss with the death toll reaching more than 650, and with hundreds more missing in villages that were buried by mudslides, the total number killed is likely to rise to more than 1,000. Another 133 people were killed in El Salvador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Additionally, more than 100,000 Guatemalans are living in shelters after their homes were damaged or destroyed. Some outlying communities remained blocked from outside help and it is estimated that the country will need more than 20,000 tons of food over the next three months.

According to Berger, the Guatemalan Ambassador to the U.S., James Derham, had confirmed that negotiations are currently taking place to determine if Guatemalans qualify to receive preferential treatment. In Los Angeles, the General Consul from Guatemala, Milton Álvarez, said they were ready to work with Derham and representatives from community organizations in support of the petition to the U.S. government, which has contributed $5 million to aid the victims of the hurricane.

Should the TPS be granted, it is estimated that nearly 200,000 undocumented Guatemalans would benefit from it.

“That would be fantastic,” said Fuentes, who returned from Guatemala one day before the hurricane hit. She spent two agonizing days trying to reach her family in Nueva Concepción, Escuintla, southwest of Guatemala City.

“You imagine the worst. We’re surrounded by beaches. I did not know whether they would be able to get out. Thank God they are all okay,” she added. The last time she spoke with her family, Fuentes said, they told her the rain had stopped and the water was receding.

However, she said, her relatives, like everyone else affected by the hurricane, have no jobs and the price of necessary items are sky high.

“They are taking advantage of the victims,” said Fuentes, who herself has undocumented friends and relatives who would benefit should the TPS be approved. “The money people send back home represents a future for their families.”

To help victims of Hurricane Stan, the Guatemalan government has established two bank accounts where people can make contributions. People can make checks at Bank of America in the name of Embajada de Guatemala Apoyo Damnificados Tornmenta Stan (001924809771) or at Chase Bank, Support Guatemalans After Storm Stan (907188683665).

For more information on the negotiations of the Temporary Protection Status, Guatemalans may contact their Embassy in Washington at (202) 745-4953.

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