Senate Plan Would Open Path To Citizenship for TPS Immigrants

Albert Sabaté/ABC/Univision

Yancy Portillo and her family are some of the roughly 300,000 people holding a temporary immigration status who could potentially benefit from an immigration reform bill in the Senate.

The 25-year-old Salvadoran has temporary protected status (TPS), a status given to immigrants in certain nations who face threats back home.

Under the Senate immigration plan, immigrants who have been lawfully living and working in the United States for 10 years or more would be eligible for green cards, the document that shows a person is a legal permanent resident.

Karen Tumlin, attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, says that the provision echoes a larger fundamental principle of the bill, "that folks who have long-term ties with the United States should have a pathway to citizenship, that they should not be kept in limbo, and that they and their families should have the security of being able to remain here."

Temporary protected status, created in 1990, gives certain immigrants who are already in the United States a way to remain in the country if they face imminent dangers in their home country, such as civil war or a natural disaster.

Currently, people who have this status need to renew their temporary work permit every 18 months, at a cost of $465. It's an expense that many low-income families struggle with.

For Portillo, who works with her sister and father doing landscaping and yard work, the cost is a significant burden. Her five-member family puts aside money a full year in advance to cover the cost. In the past, when money has been short, the family has considered getting financing to keep the work permit.

What's more: some of the costs appear to be redundant. $85 goes towards fingerprints and a background check. Immigration officials have told Portillo that there is no need for her to get fingerprinted because they already have her prints on file from previous applications. However, she continues to have to pay for it in each renewal.

A spokesperson from DHS Citizenship & Immigration Services said the fee is for the background check and does not necessarily cover the cost of fingerprints.

If a TPS holder has been living and working in the United States for less than 10 years, he or she can complete the remainder of the 10 years before applying for a green card.  For example, someone who has been living under TPS nine years would have to wait only one more year for permanent residency.

Those people would be able to apply for registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status, a new category the bill creates for undocumented immigrants. After 10 years with a legal status, those immigrants will be able to apply for a green card.

Portillo has not lived in the United States for 10 years, but her father has.

If immigration reform passes, and he is approved for a green card, he will be able to sponsor his immediate family, as well.

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