After Agatha Storm, Volcano Eruption and Sinkhole, Guatemala Seeks TPS

Tropical Storm Agatha tore through Guatemala over the weekend, leaving hundreds dead and a sinkhole in the middle of Guatemala City that swallowed up an entire intersection.

On Tuesday, the country's main daily reported the foreign minister is going to ask for temporary protected status for Guatemalans living in the United States. TPS is a legal status granted to immigrants unable to return to their native countries because of war or natural catastrophes.

Two days before Agatha made landfall, the Pacaya volcano in Southern Guatemala erupted, forcing as many as 2,000 to evacuate. Then, the storm -- the first of the 2010 hurricane season -- hit, leaving 152 dead in its wake, and 35,000 more in emergency shelters. On Monday, president Alvaro Colom asked the World Bank for a $85 million loan for reconstruction.

If TPS is granted, it would be the first time Guatemalans received the special immigration status. Given the scope of the damage, the State Department is likely to waive any objections. Earlier this year, it extended TPS to Haiti for the first time ever following its devastating earthquake.

The US previously gave TPS to Guatemala in 1997, following Hurricane

Mitch, but then president Álvaro Arzú turned it down. Several countries

in Latin America, including Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador, still have protected status from past catastrophes. That means immigrants from those countries living in the United States prior to the natural catastrophe for which it was granted, remain here legally until the status is removed, which can take years.

Also, immigrants who already had deportation orders may re-apply for a stay of deportation. While the country recovers, Prensa Libre also reports foreign minister Miguel Ángel Ibarra will ask the United States to stop deporting Guatemalans temporarily.

As for the sinkhole, which measures 60 feet wide and 100 feet deep, experts are scrambling to find out what caused it. "I can tell you what it's not: It's not a geological fault, and it's not

the product of an earthquake," David Monterroso, a geophysics

engineer told the Associated Press. "We're going to have to descend."

[erik.maza@miaminewtimes.com | on twitter]

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