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Typhoon Haiyan: In U.S., new effort to shield Filipinos from deportation

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In the wake of the devastating Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines earlier this month, efforts are afoot to convince U.S. officials to grant Philippine nationals protection from deportation.

The designation is known informally as TPS, short for temporary protected status. It's typically granted to immigrants from countries affected by natural disasters or war, allowing them to live and work legally in the United States for a specific period of time.

In recent days, Filipino American organizations, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a growing list of lawmakers have been petitioning the federal government to grant TPS to Philippine nationals who are here on temporary visas or without legal status.

Congressman Xavier Becerra of California is one of 28 House members who signed a letter to Homeland Security officials this week. With damaged infrastructure and millions displaced, the Philippines is in no shape to handle returning nationals, Becerra said.

"It would be not only inhumane, but a real infeasibility for the Philippines at this stage to have people being sent back to the country at a time when they are having a difficult time providing for those that were victims of the disaster, the typhoon," Becerra told KPCC.

Related: Typhoon Haiyan: Updates and Resources

A large number of people could be affected if TPS were granted. According to Asian Americans Advancing Justice, a civil rights advocacy group, there are an estimated 280,000 Filipinos in the U.S. who don't have legal status.

Cynthia Buiza is a board member with the Filipino Migrant Center in Long Beach. While TPS is traditionally not restricted to immigrants from certain areas, but rather the affected country in general, she says she would be satisfied, even if TPS were extended only to Filipinos in the U.S. from the regions hardest hit by the storm. She estimates these alone number around 25,000.

"Obviously one of the best benefits would be that a grant of TPS would allow Filipinos here in the United States to work and support their families in the Philippines who were impacted by the typhoon," Buiza said, "especially because remittances account for almost 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product."

A large swath of the central Philippines was torn up by Typhoon Haiyan on Nov. 8.  At last count, the known death toll had risen above 5,000.

TPS holders receive work permits and are protected from deportation, but they don't have a path to permanent status or citizenship. TPS must also be renewed periodically, typically every 18 months, and can be discontinued if the U.S. government concludes the danger of returning home is past. People convicted of certain crimes can't qualify.

Federal officials say the TPS process most often starts with a request from the affected nation. The Philippine consulate in Los Angeles did not confirm if such a request has already been made.

Ultimately, the decision is up to the Department of Homeland Security. Factors taken into account include not only how much of the country is affected physically, but the nation's infrastructure and capacity for dealing with the crisis.

TPS policies currently affect immigrants from eight countries: El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. The majority of current TPS holders  are from El Salvador.

This story has been updated.

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