Giant Guatemala Sinkhole Still Open; Temporary Protected Status In Limbo

In May, a tropical storm and a volcano eruption devastated Guatemala, leaving hundreds dead, and a giant sinkhole that swallowed a three-story building in the heart of the capital city. In response to the natural disasters, its government asked the United States to extend Temporary Protected Status, a special temporary amnesty, to undocumented Guatemalans living here.

Two months later, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to decide if Guatemala merits TPS. Despite the storm, the volcano, the gaping sinkhole, and about 3,000 people currently in shelters, a spokesman for the department says they are still "assessing the impact."

The freak, twin disasters started on May 27, when the Pacaya volcano in Southern Guatemala erupted, forcing 2,000 people to evacuate. And two days later, Tropical Storm Agatha made landfall, killing nearly 200 people and sending 35,000 to shelters.

The combination of the two things created a 60 foot wide, 100 foot deep sinkhole that swallowed an entire intersection, a three-story building, and several houses. Total cost of the double whammy? $85 million.

Homeland Security quickly offered some diplomatic band-aids to Guatemalans, but without TPS, thousands of immigrants living here without papers can't apply for them. Miami-Dade alone has a population of nearly 10,000 legal Guatemalans, according to the US Census, and Los Angeles has some 100,000. 

TPS is granted to immigrants unable to return to their native countries because of war or natural catastrophes, like earlier this year to Haitians, and they can legally remain here until the status is removed, which can take years. Nicaraguans still have TPS from 1998.

On June 14, the Guatemalan vice president met with Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, who informed him they assigned a group that would arrive by the end of June to assess the damage from the storm and volcano.

But earlier this week, responding to questions from Riptide, spokesman Matthew Chandler said the department hadn't yet finished its now two-month old evaluation. "DHS, in consultation with the U.S. Department of State, is currently assessing the impact of the storm and volcanic eruption to determine whether conditions in Guatemala support a TPS designation," he said, adding that temporary relief measures are still in place for Guatemalans, documented ones that is. (For those legal options, go to Homeland Security's web site).

Still, it's not all bad news. Guatemala still has its giant novelty sinkhole. As of Monday, it remained open. According to daily Prensa Libre, 13 thousand cubic meters of cement are needed to fill it up.

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