WASHINGTON (AP) -- Maryland Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen joined immigrants rights activists on Thursday to unveil new legislation to protect undocumented immigrants living under Temporary Protected Status.
"Congress needs to pass legislation," Cardin said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "We need to get predictability and safety to people who are in uncertain status."
Along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the senators are proposing a bill called the SECURE Act, or Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency Act, which would make immigrants under Temporary Protected Status eligible to apply for legal permanent residency after three years.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is granted to immigrants for whom returning to their home countries is dangerous or impossible. There are approximately 437,000 TPS holders from 10 designated countries currently living in the United States, including 22,500 in Maryland.
The Department of Homeland Security identifies three conditions for which temporary protected status is granted: "ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war), an environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic" or any other "extraordinary and temporary conditions."
"Many of the individuals here under TPS have been here for as long as two decades - two decades," Van Hollen said. "These are families. These are moms and dads. They're people who are working in businesses, and they're people who have started successful small businesses."
He called deporting such immigrants "wrong and counterproductive."
"This legislation is very simple," Van Hollen said. "It says we should not be deporting these individuals who are contributing so much to our country to places that are dangerous and will put their lives at risk."
A coalition of immigrants rights advocates from MomsRising, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Herd on the Hill, Mormon Women for Ethical Governance, UndocuBlack and CASA was present to lend support as several immigrants shared their stories.
"The American Dream is not only given to a certain group of people but to everybody," said Cindy Kolade, a Baltimore resident and undocumented immigrant.
Kolade is a DACA-recipient, the program under which undocumented young people became eligible for work permits, and a member of UndocuBlack, an organization that works to support undocumented black immigrants. She was emotional as she spoke of her experiences in the United States since arriving from the Ivory Coast when she was 12 years old.
"All we know is America," she said. "Going back is not going to help us or America."
After the conclusion of the press conference, part of the group planned to deliver Thanksgiving-themed cookies to lawmakers on the Hill alongside petitions in support of the DREAM Act and SECURE Act.
The senators urged Congress to pass both their legislation and a "clean DREAM Act" to protect the hundreds of thousands of children of undocumented immigrants in the United States. President Donald Trump has said he is terminating the program protecting those children, many of whom are now adults.
"Yes, we want the president of the United States to do the right thing," Cardin said. "Yes, we want to make sure that we extend TPS so that we protect the status of those who are under that program. But only Congress can provide the permanent relief, the certainty that's needed to take away the fear in families."