Rep. Luis Gutierrez is calling on President Barack Obama to give Ecuadorans in the United States permission to remain here while their country recovers from an April 16 earthquake that left nearly 700 people dead and thousands injured and homeless.
In a letter sent to Obama on Monday, the Illinois Democrat said Ecuadorans qualify for Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which a president may grant to nationals of a country that has experienced a crisis from natural disasters or conflict.
“Given the magnitude of the destruction, Ecuadorians cannot safely return home,” Gutierrez said in the letter. “Extending TPS is the compassionate response that would provide the many Ecuadorians throughout our country with much-needed security and stability in this time of personal, familial, and national crisis.”
Roughly 700,000 people of Ecuadoran descent live in the United States, according to a Pew Research Center report.
Gutierrez said he decided to reach out to the president after Ecuadorans in his state and in New York, where he was visiting recently, asked him to start a push for TPS for their community.
Gutierrez said in a statement that TPS would shield certain Ecuadorans from deportation and allow for them to send remittances to their families back in their homeland.
“The search for survivors continues while the nation also begins the lengthy process towards recovery,” Gutierrez said in his letter.
The Department of Homeland Security says it is reviewing Ecuador's eligibility for TPS.
"In consultation with appropriate agencies, DHS is assessing the impact of the earthquake and Ecuador’s recovery needs in order to determine whether a discretionary TPS designation under the statute may be warranted," said the agency in an e-mail to Fox News Latino. "To assist Ecuadorian nationals who have been affected by the earthquake, [the immigration services division] offers immigration relief measures to eligible individuals upon request."
Earlier this year, more than 270 organizations nationwide urged Obama to provide TPS to hundreds of thousands of Central American undocumented immigrants who fled growing gang violence, among other things, in their countries, according to Miami Herald. Such a move could make more than 1 million Central Americans eligible for TPS.
Nationals from some 13 countries currently have TPS.
They include El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Salvadorans got it after a 2001 earthquake, and Hondurans and Nicaraguans after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. But people who arrived in the United States from those countries after those years do not qualify.
Many proponents of strict immigration policies say the TPS system is too often exploited, and that the designation remains long after conditions in a country improves.
“The granting of TPS has been consistently and perennially abused,” said Dan Cadman, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington D.C.-based group that favors tighter immigration laws. “It has rarely proven to be ‘temporary’ at all, as can be seen from its years-long extension to the nationals of many countries, well past the point at which the trigger (volcano, earthquake, etc.) has ceased to have any effect whatever.”
“El Salvador is the prime, although not by any means singular, example.”
Cadman, a retired federal immigration official, expressed doubt in an email to Fox News Latino that Ecuadoran officials would support a TPS designation.
“To my knowledge, the government of Ecuador has not asked the U.S. to take such a measure, nor even provide search-and-rescue or recovery assistance,” Cadman said, “and it is unlikely to, given the hostility exhibited by its current president toward the United States.”
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.