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Beacon Hill Looks To Congress Keep TPS Recipients From Deportation

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Children stand next to United States and Haitian flags as they hold signs in support of renewing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants from Central America and Haiti now living in the United States, during a news conference Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Miami.
Lynne Sladky/AP

Democrats on Beacon HIll have worked throughout 2017 to leverage state government to push back against conservative elements of President Trump's and the congressional GOP's agenda. But when it comes to immigration decisions like ending temporary protected status for Haitian nationals, there's little state leaders can do except hope Congress gets something done on immigration reform.

Monday, Democrats joined Gov. Charlie Baker when he signed a law, supported by Democrats and local Republicans alike, replacing a federal requirement for free contraceptive coverage with a new state-level mandate.

On Tuesday, state officials found themselves powerless after Trump's Department of Homeland Security moved to end the Temporary Protected Status designation for Haitians who fled their country after the 2010 earthquake there. The administration has given them 18 months to leave the U.S.

Now, all state leaders like Senator Linda Dorcena Forry can do is prepare their constituents for the worst and hope that Congress passes legislation to extend TPS or put the tens of thousands of Haitian, Salvadoran and Honduran nationals on a path to permanent legal status.

"We want these families to know that we will continue to put the word out and continue to fight and to push Congress as well, to do what they need to do around immigration and immigration reform," Forry told WGBH News.

Immigrant advocates on Beacon Hill are holding out hope that Congress passes a new immigration law that includes TPS and that Trump signs it into law. In a letter to DHS Secretary Elaine Duke last week, Baker urged the Trump administration to extend TPS and made it clear that Congress should find a way to allow the nationals to stay in the country.

Forry said the goal now is to mobilize local advocacy groups and determine how best to aid the state's all-Democratic congressional delegation in immigration negotiations.

"We have Haitian organizations, South American organizations ... and so we need to work together and mobilize these organizations in other parts of the state so they can do their piece too. We know that's the work that's started, but now this gives us more time to do that," Forry said of the 18-month extension of TPS for Haitians.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge sees the eventual expiration of the TPS program as another reason for Beacon HIll to take up measures to prevent local law enforcement from engaging in immigration enforcement.

"Unfortunately unless Congress acts, you're going to have a certain percentage of Haitians, because they suddenly lack legal status, will suddenly become undocumented and the target of ICE," Eldridge said.

Eldridge said he's been working with local chiefs of police to redraft the language of legislation that would bar town and city police from making arrangements with federal immigration officials or from enforcing deportation orders.

Eldridge also floated the idea of using state funds to help immigrants fight deportation orders by providing legal counsel.

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