Maryland Sen. Van Hollen pushes for federal protection for immigrant workers during coronavirus pandemic

After the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S., Óscar Cedillo said his family didn’t receive aid from the federal government. They relied on their savings, plus food donations from their son’s school, to stay afloat.

All the while, Cedillo, a Honduran immigrant with temporary protected status, worked on the front lines as a janitor at Kaiser Permanente clinics in Montgomery County — for no extra pay.


“Cleaners are not highly paid to begin with, and now we are paying with our health and our lives to keep hospitals safe and clean for nurses, doctors and their patients,” said Cedillo who spoke in Spanish using an interpreter during a call Thursday with Sen. Chris Van Hollen.

Van Hollen is among the federal legislators pushing to support immigrants with temporary protected status, or TPS, like Cedillo and keep them in the country with a number of legislative fixes that largely have been stonewalled by the Republican-controlled Senate. Many of these workers have been considered essential during the coronavirus pandemic.


Thousands of immigrants from 10 countries, including El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras, have temporary protected status in the U.S. as a result of war, natural disasters and other disturbances in their home countries.

But the Trump administration has sought to end these protections for the vast majority of these immigrants. It has argued that the TPS program isn’t meant to provide long-term relief, noting that some of the disasters that prompted the original issuance of TPS status have since abated.

Amid court battles over the program, the government extended TPS for many affected immigrants through January 2021, and as the coronavirus pandemic rages on, legislators like Van Hollen are pushing to extend it further.

“As we struggled to defeat this virus and address the economic fallout, these TPS holders are on the front line in so many cases,” Van Hollen said Thursday. “Ending their TPS status would not only be morally wrong, but it would be totally counterproductive and stupid.”

In Maryland, some 6,600 immigrants with temporary protected status work in occupations on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning, Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Democratic legislators notched a small victory Wednesday after a provision supporting TPS holders and DACA recipients made its way into the appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security on its way to the House floor. The provision would prevent the agency from using its funds to deport such individuals.

A path to citizenship for TPS holders was passed in the House of Representatives as part of the American Dream and Promise Act in June 2019, but that bill hasn’t been picked up by the Senate. Van Hollen’s own legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, among others, also includes protections for TPS holders, but hasn’t received a Senate vote.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus relief legislation passed by the House in May, the HEROES Act, includes an extension on work permits for TPS holders, and provisions that would allow more immigrants to obtain stimulus checks. The bill, which faced intense Republican opposition, hasn’t been voted on in the Senate.


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“We’re going to be pushing very hard to make sure that those provisions are included in whatever emergency response passes the Senate,” Van Hollen said.

Some House Republicans forced a vote to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks as part of the HEROES Act, but their measure fell short. Senate Republicans have said they’d like to pause and evaluate the government’s current coronavirus relief spending before taking up the bill.

Cedillo, who has a wife and two young children, called the Trump administration’s posture toward TPS holders hypocritical.

“The government considers me an essential worker and it is my life to keep others safe, but at the same time, it wants to separate me from my family,” Cedillo said.