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University President Drew G. Faust sent a letter to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Friday, urging them to pass legislation protecting immigrants now vulnerable after the Trump administration’s termination of Temporary Protected Status.
The letter, addressed to House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, calls on Congress to protect individuals under Temporary Protected Status from not only El Salvador, but also Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan.
“I write today to urge you to take legislative action to protect these individuals—several dozen of them members of the Harvard community—from deportation,” Faust wrote.
Created by Congress in 1990 to offer provisional humanitarian relief, Temporary Protected Status is a designation granted by the Department of Homeland Security to certain foreign nationals who are unable to return to their country of citizenship due to unsafe circumstances, like an armed conflict or natural disaster. TPS recipients can legally live and work in the U.S. and are immune from deportation.
Over the last few months, the Trump administration has stripped TPS status from Sudanese, Haitians, and Nicaraguans. In January, the administration announced it would end TPS benefits for Salvadoran immigrants in Sept. 2019.
Faust’s letter comes after a group of 50 TPS-holding workers and their allies rallied outside Massachusetts Hall last week and delivered a petition calling on Faust to write to lawmakers on their behalf. They also asked her to hold a press conference on the issue before a Feb. 8 deadline for Congress to pass legislation funding the government. Immigration policy has become embroiled in those budget talks.
In her letter, Faust emphasized the positive contributions of TPS holders to Harvard and the country. She wrote that “repatriating them to countries that remain unstable or at risk” will only cause them harm.
“Today, more than 400,000 TPS recipients live, work, and invest in the United States. As noted above, several dozen of these individuals work across multiple departments at Harvard and are highly valued and productive colleagues,” Faust wrote.
At a Faculty meeting Tuesday, Faust said she has been in contact with House and Senate leaders about TPS. She also said that she had the opportunity to speak to Senator Dick Durbin while he was at Harvard last week to seek his advice on the issue.
Harvard Kennedy School student Niharika N. Singh, a member of the International Scholars Working Group run by the graduate student unionization effort, spoke at the protest on Thursday. Singh said she was glad the University made a statement “after many months of organizing.”
“I think when DACA was repealed, that statement was made instantaneously whereas this has taken now quite a number of months since TPS status started being under risk and cancelled,” she said.
Other protesters also criticized Faust for a comparatively faster response to the Sept. 2017 repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—an Obama-era program that allowed undocumented youth to legally live and work in the United States. Faust denounced the decision to repeal DACA as “cruel” in a University-wide email just hours after the repeal.
Faust has been a long-time advocate for undocumented students and immigrants at Harvard and in higher education broadly. Since the repeal of DACA, Faust has advocated on behalf of undocumented students by signing letters, appearing on national television, and joining the “Dream Coalition,” an organization of business leaders and politicians pushing for legislation to protect undocumented students.
Last week, the University updated its “Undocumented at Harvard” website to include more information on TPS and the various ways in which affected members of the University can utilize resources on campus. The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Law Clinic currently has one full-time attorney devoted to providing legal counsel on immigration issues.
—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.
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