The Trump administration announced Monday, Jan 8, that it will end “temporary protected status” (TPS) that was first granted to Salvadorans nearly two decades ago. Roughly 263,000 people from El Salvador are covered by the program, which allowed the immigrants to stay and work in the United States legally.
According to Gabe Ortiz of Daily Kos, with this marking the fourth termination of status for TPS recipients in four months, it’s a systemic plan from the Trump administration to create more undocumented immigrants to deport, and a plan that’s covered in the white supremacist fingerprints of the ghoulish Stephen Miller. But with several bills sitting in Congress that would protect TPS recipients from deportation, it’s a plan we can fight back.
“With the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and TPS status for individuals from Nicaragua, Sudan, and Haiti, this administration has now taken away lawful status from more than 1 million people, forcing them to live in the shadows or return to countries that are unstable and dangerous,” said the National Immigrant Justice Center. “In light of this tragic reality, NIJC calls on Congress to act now to uphold American values and prevent human and economic devastation to our country and global community.”
It may be recalled that Salvadoran immigrants had been streaming into the United States prompted by the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1980 to 1992. Experts estimate the conflict sent more than 25% of El Salvador’s residents fleeing for their lives. More than 330,000 Salvadorans came to the United States between 1985 and 1990, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Over 75,000 civilians died at the hands of government forces during the civil war in El Salvador with US-backed death squads. According to David Kirsch, the author of Death Squads in El Salvador: A Pattern of U.S. Complicity now, there is compelling evidence to show that for over 30 years, members of the U.S. military and the CIA have helped organize, train, and fund death squad activity in El Salvador. The United Nations has estimated that the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas were responsible for 5% of the murders of civilians during the civil war, while approximately 85% of all killings of civilians were committed by the Salvadoran armed forces and death squads.
In January 2001 the 7.7-magnitude quake that struck El Salvador that was the worst to hit the country in a decade. Neighborhoods were buried. Homes collapsed. More than 1,100 people were killed. Another 1.3 million were displaced.
The devastation spurred a decision that March by then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft: Immigrants from El Salvador who’d been in the United States since February 2001 could apply for temporary protected status, or TPS, which would protect them from deportation and allow them to get work permits. It was an 18-month designation.
Now, it’s been nearly 17 years. Time after time, officials from different administrations determined that conditions in El Salvador hadn’t improved enough for migrants with TPS to return. On Monday, the Trump administration said it decided to end protections effective September 9, 2019.
Tellingly, El Salvador’s murder rate is one of the highest in the world, and experts have said poverty and violence were major factors fueling the recent migration wave.
El Salvador foreign minister
“We are going to focus on the United States Congress, so that they pass legislation that allows our compatriots” to become residents, Hugo Martínez, El Salvador’s foreign minister, said in a phone interview to Washington Post. “We think we have sufficient time and will work hard for this alternative.”
The Salvadoran government has lobbied the Trump administration for months to find a solution that would allow these people to stay in the United States, rather than end the Temporary Protected Status program, or TPS, that has been in effect since 2001.
Over the weekend, El Salvador’s Foreign Ministry continued tweeting about the benefits that Salvadorans bring to the U.S. economy and culture, saying that 95 percent of Salvadorans in the program are employed or own their own businesses.
Congress created TPS in 1990
Congress created TPS in 1990 as a form of humanitarian relief for people who would face extreme hardship if forced to return to homelands devastated by armed conflict and natural disasters. Currently, about 437,000 people from 10 countries have TPS, according to the Congressional Research Service, but tens of thousands will lose that protection in the coming years.
This year officials will also have to decide whether to extend TPS for Nepal, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The Trump administration extended TPS for South Sudan last year and will reconsider the issue again in 2019.
Salvadorans are just the latest group whose TPS designation is on the chopping block. Salvadorans represent approximately 60 percent of TPS recipients, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Last month, the Trump administration announced that in July 2019 it would end TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians who sought refuge in the United States after a catastrophic earthquake hit that country in 2010.
Last year, officials also announced that TPS for Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants would end.
The decision could complicate already-tense negotiations on Capitol Hill over a possible solution for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, as a bipartisan group of senators working on a possible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals deal weighs a possible legislative fix for former TPS recipients, according to the Politico.
The senators have discussed potentially curbing the diversity visa lottery — which President Donald Trump has repeatedly vowed to abolish — in exchange for extending TPS protections, according to two people familiar with the ongoing talks. In an interview in late December, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said negotiators discussed potential “trade-offs” between the two programs.
The Politico quoted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) as saying the move demonstrates that the administration is “driven by nativist impulses” and could force law-abiding immigrants into the shadows.
“Likewise, tens of thousands of American children will also be terribly harmed by this decision as it seeks to strip them from their parents,” Menendez said.
The Trump administration’s decision infuriated not just congressional Democrats, but also some Republicans who had repeatedly stressed that the protected immigrants could not safely return to their home country.
“These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs and crime,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “It would be devastating to send them home after they have created a humble living for themselves and their families.”
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.