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America needs immigrants with temporary protected status to stay

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, this special immigrant workforce has become more essential than ever.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Salvadoran and Haitian TPS recipients. The team at the group's offices in 2018, left to right: Back row, Ivan Espinoza, Exec. Dir., Jennifer Hernandez, Immigrant Right's Organizer at Centro Presente, and Oren Nimni. Front row: Juan Carlos Vidal, a plaintiff in the suit from El Salvador, and Chris Jean Baptiste, a plaintiff from Haiti.Barry Chin

Kettle Cuisine employs about 500 people in its Lynn plant. And chief executive Liam McClennon has ranked them among the “unsung heroes” of the pandemic, keeping the shelves at big grocery stores stocked with fresh and frozen soups.

But McClennon is also deeply concerned for Kettle workers covered by a humanitarian program the Trump administration is threatening to end.

“It’s just an absolutely shameful and capricious decision,” said McClennon about the pending cancellation of Temporary Protected Status, a program that allows immigrants to live and work in the United States if conditions in their home countries are too dangerous for them to return. Kettle employs between 25 and 30 workers who are beneficiaries of TPS, most of them in the Lynn plant. “In the best of times,” it’s the wrong call, he said of Trump’s decision to end the protections. “But literally in the worst of times, during a pandemic, it’s ridiculous to continue with this nonsense of returning people who have started families, bought houses, and paid taxes here."

He’s right. And yet, the fate of the Temporary Protected Status program suffered a setback earlier this month when the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in California court ruled that the Trump administration could proceed with its plan to end the program. The decision, if it stands, would mean that immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan who have TPS — more than 300,000 individuals nationwide — could be forced to leave the country next year, in many cases leaving behind their US-born children.


The move to end TPS isn’t only callous, it’s short-sighted, given the economy’s current reliance on TPS workers. An analysis from the Center for American Progress estimated that 131,000 TPS beneficiaries nationwide are considered essential workers. In Massachusetts, almost half of the 12,000 immigrants who are in the program work in essential occupations.


While TPS holders represent a small fraction of Kettle’s workforce, McClennon said a lot of them are in supervisory positions, having worked their way up from entry-level jobs, and have been with the company many years. If TPS ends, “we will lose them and we have to rehire and retrain” at a significant cost. “Why would anybody want to do that?”

TPS is a federal relief designation issued to certain countries with deteriorating conditions caused by armed conflicts, natural disasters, or health epidemics. The program allows immigrants from those countries to live and work here with permits renewed every 18 months. Only eligible immigrants can apply, and a criminal record or background is disqualifying. The average TPS recipient from El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras — the three countries that collectively account for 90 percent of all participants in the program — has lived in the country for 22 years, according to the Center for American Progress.

The California court of appeals’ decision is not final, as plaintiffs plan to appeal. The case and others in Boston and New York challenge Trump’s cancellation of the program based on procedural grounds, while also claiming that the president was motivated by racial bias toward non-white, non-European immigrants. The Boston lawsuit, for instance, cites several of Trump’s comments equating Latino immigrants with rapists and calling Haiti a “shithole” country.


Jose Palma, a TPS holder from El Salvador who lives in Lynn and is also a coordinator for the National TPS Alliance, said TPS recipients he’s spoken with are distressed about potentially losing their status. And some, he said, are already feeling the impact of the program’s unresolved cancellation.

“There are many workplaces that don’t understand what’s going on and are asking employees with TPS to show them their renewed documents,” Palma said. “Others are looking for a job right now and are being turned away.”

McClennon is a lone voice in the Greater Boston business community openly advocating for TPS recipients, even though many businesses rely on their labor. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, which filed the Massachusetts lawsuit, said TPS recipients are “over-represented in key industries and key positions during the COVID-19 crisis,” such as nursing, home health care, food manufacturing, and janitorial services. “I don’t think the business community has done enough to speak out about TPS and its huge impact in the state.”

McClennon shares Espinoza-Madrigal’s frustrations with his fellow business leaders. But, the CEO, said: “I’m hopeful that the courts are going to see the prejudice in this.”

So is this editorial board.

Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.