By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
On Jan. 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announced in a press release that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for the nation of El Salvador would be terminated. She also stated that the final termination would be pushed back 18 months to allow Salvadorans living in the U.S. without legal status as part of the program time to get their affairs in order before returning to their home country. This would affect roughly 200,000 Salvadorans currently living in the U.S.
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website, “the Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” The two main conditions considered are natural disasters and armed conflict of some sort (either domestic or cross-border). However, DHS can also designate TPS status for “other extraordinary and temporary conditions.”
Refugees Are Not Necessarily Immigrants
Temporary is technically the key word when it comes to this designation. The program was designed to accommodate refugees rather than immigrants, and the status was always meant to be revoked once the temporary crisis had been mitigated; either the country had sufficiently rebuilt or the conflict had ended. The controversy arises when it takes several years—over 16 years in the case of El Salvador—to make those countries safe to return to in the eyes of DHS. During those years, immigrants who arrive in the U.S. under the TPS program are protected from deportation and can live and work legally. They establish roots, ties, and have families, making the revocation of their TPS status life-changing regardless of how inevitable it was.
El Salvador Revocation Follows Same Move For Haiti
What makes the El Salvador revocation politically controversial is that it comes on the heels of Haiti’s revocation on November 20, affecting approximately 45,000 Haitian nationals in the U.S., and the revocation of Nicaragua’s TPS last year. The New York Times speculated that these moves by DHS are precipitating a Honduras revocation very soon. All of these nations were granted TPS status after natural disasters ravaged much of their territory. Critics of the Trump administration view the timing as an attempt to use any tools necessary to deport illegal immigrants, especially since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will end in March unless Congress provides those in the program with legal status.
One of the World’s Most Violent Nations
Many who oppose the DHS decision on El Salvador are concerned about the forced return of so many to one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere. They argue that gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) have turned El Salvador into a virtual war zone, and those leaving for the U.S. are refugees from conflict the government is incapable of ending. The United Nations has argued that those fleeing extreme criminal violence should be accorded refugee status, but many Western governments—including the U.S. disagree.
In the meantime, DHS has stated in the January 8 press release, “Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the Secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist [in El Salvador].” Even though those original conditions include high levels of gang-related violence, TPS is not designed to address those issues. President Trump will still be in office when the Nicaraguan, Haitian, and Salvadoran TPS revocations go into full effect and deportations of program members become eligible for enforcement.
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