Last November, Typhoon Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded on land wrought horrific destruction across the central Philippines. With sustained winds of nearly 150 mph and waves higher than many of the buildings in the region, Haiyan caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and left more than 6,000 people dead, 27,000 injured and 4 million displaced.
Families in the United States responded with an outpouring of sympathy and support, and our nation immediately assisted through foreign aid, military assistance and relief supplies. Months later, however, the resources and infrastructure of the Philippines are strained and communities are still struggling to recover.
We must also call on the Obama administration to recognize that a key component of relief efforts must be to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the Philippines. Designed as an emergency measure for nations facing extreme hardships, such as those caused by natural disasters, TPS would allow Filipino nationals without permanent resident status to continue to stay in the U.S. and provide working authorization temporarily until TPS status ends. This would greatly assist relief efforts by giving the affected regions more time to recover before accepting returnees.
The Filipino American community across our nation has joined together to launch a national movement to advocate for TPS. Some of these groups include the Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. The Relief 2 Recovery coalition has held nationally coordinated press events, vigils, call-in days and collected thousands of signatures of support. Led by domestic workers, legal advocates and faith and community leaders, Relief 2 Recovery has also organized meetings with the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and the Philippine Embassy.
In an era that too often sees partisan gridlock, members of Congress from both chambers and both sides of the aisle have come together to support granting TPS. In bipartisan letters to the Secretary of Homeland Security, we recognized that “due to natural disaster, the Philippine government is currently struggling to address significant loss of life, repair extensive damage to infrastructure, and provide sufficient and timely aid to millions of survivors.”
While the efforts of millions across the world have provided relief to the communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan, our work to rebuild lives and infrastructure in the Philippines is far from over and the country is not in a position to accommodate returning nationals. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to support recovery efforts by granting TPS to the Philippines.
Hirono is the junior senator from Hawaii, serving since 2013. She sits on the Armed Services; the Environment and Public Works; the Judiciary; and the Veterans Affairs committees.