‘The time is now’

By Riley Rogerson


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Last month, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Temporary Protected Status holders in the United States are ineligible for green cards.

The decision doesn’t mean that everyone with TPS is barred from seeking legal status, but activist Marleine Bastien sees the decision as a spark to ignite congressional immigration reform.

The U.S. has granted TPS to about 400,000 people who entered the nation seeking refuge from unsafe conditions in their home countries.

Jose Santos Sanchez and his wife Sonia Gonzalez, who brought the suit, immigrated from El Salvador and have lived as a married couple for more than 20 years in New Jersey. They have four sons, the youngest of whom was born in the United States. Sanchez has been working for Viking Yachts, which supported his application for permanent residency. He then applied on behalf of his wife but they were denied the change in status because they hadn’t been officially “admitted” to the country. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit agreed.

In the June Sanchez v. Mayorkas decision, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that “because a grant of TPS does not come with a ticket of admission, it does not eliminate the disqualifying effect of an unlawful entry.”

Bastien, who is best known for suing President Donald Trump for attempting to revoke TPS for Haitians, wasn’t surprised. In 1981, Bastien immigrated to Miami at age 22 while fleeing an oppressive dictatorship in Haiti. Though she was initially hesitant to seek U.S. citizenship after watching how Black people were treated in America, she decided it was safer to become a citizen, and she made it official in 1996.

Bastien founded the Family Action Network Movement in 1991 to support low-income Miami residents. FANM fights for TPS rights alongside affordable housing and climate education. Bastien is running for Miami-Dade County Commissioner.

In a recent Zoom conversation with IRW, Bastien weighed in on Mayorkas v. Sanchez; working with the Biden administration; and her hopes that Congress will step up for immigrants.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.


Can you tell me a little bit about why TPS is important to your community and why you’re such an advocate for it.


TPS is given to nationals whose nations are in turmoil, so much so that they cannot return without great harm to themselves or to their children.

Marleine Bastien. (Courtesy Family Action Network Movement)

FANM has been leading the fight for TPS in the late ’80s, early ’90s. So after President Obama was elected, we thought that he was going to automatically give TPS to Haitians. He did not. He didn’t until the earthquake, which killed over 250,000 people and quasi-destroyed Haiti’s entire infrastructure.

TPS recipients, they are very resourceful. They work. They pay taxes. They contribute billions in taxes. Over 40% of them are homeowners. If they commit any crimes, they cannot have TPS, so most of them are model citizens, and most immigrants are model citizens anyway— despite people trying to say that if one person committed a crime, then all immigrants are criminals. One thing that we found during the pandemic is that our TPS recipients are part of our communities; they are rooted in their communities. These are people who are our teachers, our doctors.

They are organizers. They are restaurant workers, and during the pandemic, they were part of our essential workers. There are thousands and thousands of TPS recipients who are essential workers around the nation who are saving lives. During the pandemic, when some people had the luxury to stay home, a lot of the TPS recipients had to go to work, and they are part of our communities.


I understand that you sued President Trump for his TPS policies. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?


FANN sued the Trump administration for terminating TPS under false pretenses, using racism and xenophobia. FANM joined two organizations and a dozen of TPS recipients nationally. The name of the lawsuit was SAGET vs. Trump.

Judge William Kuntz opined in our favor, and my testimony was used to show that TPS recipients really are deeply rooted in their communities. Among them, they have 275,000 U.S.- born children. They contribute to your economy. They invest in Social Security, even though they are not qualified for any help, they’re not qualified for any assistance. The TPS recipients will contribute to strengthening our economy, and Judge William Kuntz wrote a deliberate opinion in our favor.

The Trump administration appealed the case — that’s where it is right now — because we won. So we asked President Biden to throw away the appeal, and we hope that he does it.


How has working with the Biden administration compared to the Trump administration on TPS issues?


It is day and night because under the Trump administration, he was making policies without consulting anybody. Since Biden came to office, we’ve had a lot of dialogue. That’s the way it should be. Government should engage their constituency. An engaged citizenry enriches and strengthens our democracy. We are happy that the Biden administration seems to be wanting this engagement, and we really hope that during these meetings that they will heed our voices, they will heed our calls, because what is the point of meeting if things don’t change?


What was your reaction to the Sanchez v. Mayorkas Supreme Court decision, which ruled on TPS holders’ eligibility for green cards?


The Supreme Court decision really affirms a law that was already in the books. However, what the Supreme Court decision does is amplify the voices of the TPS recipients, the DACA recipients and the 11 million undocumented who have been giving their all to this nation and calling for Congress to act to reform our immigration system. Our immigration system is broken. It needs to be reformed. And what we believe the recent court decision does is highlight that fact that Congress needs to act in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation to help those who have DACA, those who have TPS and those who are undocumented, to help them get permanency with a path to citizenship.

We have this hypocritical relationship with immigrants: We don’t want them, and yet, we cannot function without them. Immigrants make our country strong. Our diversity makes us strong. We benefit from immigrant labor every day. You have immigrants contributing, keeping their end of the bargain days in and days out. It is time that Congress acts to keep their end of the bargain and pass comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now because tomorrow, there will be no time.


What do you think the prospects are for TPS legislation to be passed in Congress?


Well, I was following the Senate hearing [on June 15] on DACA and TPS. I was shocked to hear some of the members. We’re talking about giving permanency to people who have been living here for 30, 40 years, but they are talking about the border. They are talking about criminals.

It is not about Republican and Democrats. That’s why we want both groups to work in a bipartisan manner. Now. Now, to pass legislation to write this wrong. It’s about time, the immigration system has been broken for years. It’s time that we build, rebuild it, and we can do it now. Stop this politicking. Politics should not be part of this process.


I understand you’re running for county commissioner in Miami-Dade. To what degree are immigration and TPS a part of your platform, and how will you advocate for it if elected?


Well, TPS, immigration reform is a federal issue. But you know, all politics is local, right? Whatever we do here locally has a national impact. So, of course, this is not something I can escape.

When people have a work permit, when they are permanent residents, they are stable. They buy homes. They have licenses. The family benefits. They start businesses. Immigrants are very resourceful. They are very entrepreneurial, and the more stable they are, the better for the local economy.

So, of course, it is a federal issue, but this is something that I will continue to work toward, in addition to other local issues like transportation, like improving the quality of life of all the residents of District 2, and by osmosis, of all Miami-Dade County. Also, crafting legislation to address climate resiliency, climate change, climate gentrification, to craft a better future for ourselves. Here, in Miami-Dade county and beyond.