Taking Apart TPS: Trump Strips Salvadorans Of Protected Status

By Andrew Soboeiro

With Congress gearing up for a showdown on DACA, much of immigration reporting has understandably focused on the Dreamers' fates. Yet DACA is hardly the only legal refuge for immigrants that the Trump Administration has undermined. The president has also scaled back the Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, program. The Trump Administration recently announced that it would be revoking this status for 200,000 Salvadorans, threatening them with deportation and setting the stage for humanitarian disaster.

Summary of Temporary Protected Status

Created in 1990, the TPS program offers temporary residence and work permits to immigrants who are fleeing armed conflict, environmental disaster, epidemics, and other serious crises. Such individuals need not have entered the United States legally, and can remain in the country until their status is revoked. TPS does not provide citizenship, but immigrants can go through the naturalization process while they hold it if a path to citizenship is available to them.

TPS is often granted to large waves of immigrants fleeing specific disasters. In 1998, for example, 2,500 Nicaraguans received the status after Nicaragua was devastated by Hurricane Mitch. Likewise, 60,000 Haitians were granted this status after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Other groups who enjoy or have recently enjoyed TPS include 70 refugees from the 2011 war in South Sudan, 5,800 Syrians fleeing the conflict in that country, and 1,000 Yemeni refugees who escaped their country’s ongoing civil war. The Trump Administration has already revoked TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and South Sudanese refugees.

The single largest group of people enjoying TPS are Salvadorans, more than 260,000 of whom entered the United States after a series of earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001. While some have since returned home, roughly 200,000 remain in the country. Many of these individuals have children and spouses who are American citizens, and a large number own homes or businesses here. By terminating their status, the Trump administration may force them to leave all of this behind and return to El Salvador.

The Impact of Revoking TPS

In revoking their protected status, the Trump Administration argues that El Salvador has repaired its infrastructure from the damage caused by the earthquakes. The crisis is thus over, giving Salvadorans no reason to remain in the US. But while El Salvador is no longer reeling from that specific disaster, it is currently in the throes of an even worse crisis marked by uncontrolled violent crime. The country currently has the highest murder rate in the world, the result of drug trafficking, gang activity, and a variety of other problems.

Sending 200,000 Salvadorans back to El Salvador would expose them to this violence, leading many to be murdered, raped, or assaulted. What’s more, flooding the country with so many people could make the crisis worse, as public safety officials struggle to accommodate such a large increase in the population. Simply revoking TPS, then, could cause a humanitarian disaster.

Besides humanitarian concerns, the Trump administration’s decision could create practical problems for the United States itself. Businesses throughout the country depend on these Salvadorans and their families for workers and customers. Expelling them would thus produce serious social and economic disruption. Business organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce have thus joined unions and immigrant advocacy groups in criticizing this decision.

The same concerns about deporting Salvadorans also apply to other groups enjoying TPS status. Expelling tens of thousands of Haitian refugees, for example, would put additional pressure on Haiti’s already-limited infrastructure, raising the risk of economic crisis. Likewise, if the Trump Administration allows TPS for Syrian refugees to expire, as appears likely, it will be sending 7,000 people back into one of the modern world’s deadliest conflicts. This would put them at serious risk while depriving the United States of valuable workers and consumers.

The Trump Administration’s decision will not immediately force former TPS residents out. Those from El Salvador will have until September of 2019 to either leave or obtain another form of legal status. Before that happens, Congress could choose to extend lasting protection to these individuals, just as it has been considering with DACA recipients. The future of TPS recipients will thus depend on Congress’s priorities, the results of upcoming elections, and other political developments over the next 18 months.

Vigoda Law Firm offers legal support for immigrants in the Raleigh area seeking to gain or keep legal status. For more information on the TPS program and all other immigration topics, visit our website today or call 919-307-7817.