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Report: Immigrants on Temporary Protected Status more civically engaged

Thursday, June 29, 2017

LAWRENCE — U.S. immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras on Temporary Protected Status, despite its in-between and temporary nature, generally do better than undocumented immigrants in educational attainment and civic engagement in their communities, according to a new report led by the University of Kansas Center for Migration Research.

Cecilia Menjívar, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology and co-leader of the center, recently briefed congressional staff members about the report's findings on Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, as U.S. Homeland Security officials consider its future with U.S. immigration policy and whether to renew the program as many agreements with countries are set to expire in 2017 and 2018.

"As such, TPS represents a step in the right direction. It positions its beneficiaries in a favorable starting point in the process of integration, but this process is truncated as these immigrants quickly encounter a legal ceiling that precludes them from advancing further," according to the report.

The report is based on survey data from over 2,000 TPS recipients nationwide that show the demographic profile, labor force participation and economic contributions, and community engagement among the TPS population. Based on these data, the report argues for the benefit of an avenue to move immigrants with temporary status to permanent legal residence to benefit themselves, their families and U.S. communities, Menjívar said.

The researchers conducted the telephone and in-person survey from April to August 2016 in the six U.S. cities with the largest population of Central Americans: Los Angeles; Houston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco, and the New York metropolitan area in New York and New Jersey.

The U.S. government designates immigrants with TPS when conditions in their home country temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely or under circumstances where the country of origin is unable to adequately handle the return of its nationals. It is estimated that more than 300,000 immigrants are here on TPS from 13 countries, including El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

During the designated period, immigrants cannot be deported, can obtain employment authorization and, unlike undocumented immigrants, cannot be detained on the basis of their legal status. However, their status is not permanent, and they must renew their status and pay a fee of $495 every 18 months. Plus, they are not eligible for permanent residence and then pursue full citizenship, though many have stayed in the United States for 15 years or longer.

This also can create difficulty for TPS immigrants' ability to increase their socioeconomic status, even when they have improved their educational attainment, Menjívar said. This means that TPS recipients concentrate in occupations that typically offer lower earnings, such as construction, service-oriented or manufacturing, even when they have the educational skills to move beyond those occupations.

But the immigrants do participate more in civic organizations and contribute in other meaningful ways to their communities, the researchers found.

"On the one hand, the temporary status is good because it allows people to work here legally and to not be deported because they have authorization," Menjívar said. "On the other hand, because it is only a legal presence and not formal legal status, it is temporary and must be renewed every 18 months. That affects the kinds of jobs they can get because they don't know if that permit is going to be renewed."

The report's key findings include:

- TPS holders have significantly high levels of labor force participation: 94 percent of men and 82.1 percent of women are working, with 83.3 percent of men and 54.9 percent of women working more than 40 hours per week, and 7.6 percent of men and 10 percent of women working more than one job.

- About one-tenth of survey respondents were self-employed (men 13.4 percent, women 7.8 percent).

- Men work in construction/painting (23 percent), driving (13.7 percent), cleaning (7.1 percent), cooking (3.9 percent), gardening (5.4 percent), while women concentrate in cleaning buildings (16.7 percent) or houses (11.2 percent), child care (6.6 percent), cooking (5.2 percent) or in clothing manufacturing (4 percent).

- The average monthly income of the survey respondents is $2,910 (men, $3,598; women, $2,054).

- 33.6 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women survey respondents live in owner-occupied homes.

- The average educational level of survey respondents at the time they arrived in the United States was 7.6 years; however, 49.2 percent of them have furthered their education in the United States, enrolling in at least one educational program, such as English language courses (36.4 percent), high school diploma or GED (9.6 percent), vocational certificate (4.9 percent), college courses (1.6 percent) and university (1 percent)

- 29.7 percent of the survey respondents volunteered in civic organizations, committees or community groups in the 12 months prior to the survey, showing high levels of social integration. Also, 20.2 percent engaged in activities to benefit to their community, including donating blood, cleaning streets, etc.

- 80.3 percent of survey respondents pay income taxes, including 79.3 percent of those who are self-employed. They have contributed to social security for an average of 15.4 years, and 90 percent file taxes every year.

Menjívar said the research shows the benefits of TPS as part of U.S. immigration policy and strengthens the argument for allowing TPS holders to seek permanent residence or full citizenship.

"They are integrated socially in their communities, and they also have to renew their work permits, keep clean criminal records and are well-behaved," she said. "So, for practical purposes, they are members of society, except for that one very important piece."

The research team included KU sociology graduate students Byeongdon Oh, the project manager; Daniel Alvord; Andrea Gómez Cervantes; and Natalie Jansen; and Ana Garcia, the survey field coordinator of CARECEN-Los Angeles, the Central American immigrant rights organization. 

Top photo: Immigrant rights organizations on June 23 gathered for an event near the White House to ask for the continuation of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries. Cecilia Menjívar, KU Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and others with the KU Center for Migration Research presented were in Washington to brief congressional staff members and present research on how immigrants in the United States on Temporary Protected Status have achieved higher levels of educational attainment and become civically engaged in their communities, despite not being eligible for full residency.

Left photo: Cecilia Menjívar, KU Foundation Distinguished Professor of Sociology, and others with immigrant rights organizations briefed congressional staff members on June 23 about the center’s research findings on the effectiveness of the Temporary Protected Status for U.S. immigrants from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries.