Editor’s note: The opinions below are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.
By Barbara Franz
On Jan. 8, 2018, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced her decision to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for El Salvador.
The Department of Homeland Security said that because damaged roads, schools, hospitals, homes and water systems had been reconstructed since the 2001 earthquakes, the Salvadorans no longer belong in the TPS program.
This decision will become effective on Sept. 9, 2019, an effective date delayed by 18 months in order to allow for an “orderly transition” for the 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S.
There may be nothing orderly about the transition that these Salvadorans now begin to experience: They quickly need to either find a way to obtain green cards or other visas, or they will be forced to give up their US-American lives, sell their properties and possessions, and find refuge elsewhere.
Otherwise, the Trump administration will force them to return to El Salvador, a country with rampant gang violence and death squads.
There is no question that Salvadorans should continue to receive protections from dangers such as gang violence or gender-based violence.
Nick Miroff and David Nakamura of The Washington Post report that Salvadoran government officials and others had implored Nielsen to extend the TPS designation, citing the country’s gang violence and the potentially destabilizing effect of so many people being sent home.
El Salvador’s homicide rate — 108 per 100,000 people in 2015 — is the world’s highest for a country not at war, according to the most recent U.N. data. A surge of unaccompanied minors who entered the United States in 2014 and 2015 came from Central America’s violent northern triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Like nationals from El Salvador, Hondurans will, in all likelihood, lose their TPS.
TPS offers temporary renewable legal status for 18 months to immigrants fleeing natural disasters, political violence or other tenuous circumstances. When the TPS program was created as part of the Immigration Act of 1990 and El Salvador first received TPS designation, the country was in the throes of a civil war.
Once the war was over, TPS designation for El Salvador ended, but it again received this designation in 2001, after a series of devastating earthquakes.
TPS, as originally designed, does not provide a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship. Yet people continue applying for TPS to escape life-threatening circumstances in their native countries.
Many of the Salvadorans have lived in the United States for decades and they have approximately 192,700 U.S.-born children.
At least 6,800 Salvadoran TPS holders and their 3,900 U.S.-born children reside in New Jersey and will be affected by the decision, according to figures from the think tank Center for American Progress.
While we do not yet fully know the consequences of removing these hundreds of thousands of people, the effects will be far-reaching.
The Center for Migration Studies reports that 88 percent of Salvadoran beneficiaries participate in the labor force, compared with 63 percent of the overall United States population; and that nearly one-quarter of the Salvadoran beneficiaries have a mortgage.
The deportations will affect regional economies. For example, in Houston the elimination of protected status will aggravate a labor shortage that is already delaying repairs after Hurricane Harvey.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimates that deporting Salvadoran TPS holders could cost the country more than $1.8 billion and result in a loss of $4.8 billion in Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade.
Money sent home from Salvadorans abroad is a lifeline for many in that country, where, according to the World Bank, four out of 10 households subsist below the poverty line. In 2016, the $4.6 billion remitted from abroad, mostly from the United States, accounted for 17 percent of El Salvador’s economy.
For the Trump administration, none of this matters. Trump wants to appease his base, and his base lusts for blood and tears. The simplest way to get rid of undocumented immigrants is by deporting those who are registered, such as DACA recipients, and doing away with deferred deportation procedures, such as TPS.
Since Trump took office, arrests by immigration enforcement agents have increased by 40 percent. Trump has slashed the number of refugees accepted by the United States to the lowest level since 1980.
Last week, his administration sent lawmakers an $18 billion blueprint for the first phase of a Mexico border wall. And, he seems to be set on doing away with TPS.
The Salvadorans are by far the largest group of foreigners benefiting from temporary protected status, which shielded them from deportation if they arrived in the United States illegally.
The decision to eliminate TPS for Salvadorans came just weeks after more than 45,000 Haitians lost protections granted following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and it suggested that others in the program, namely Hondurans, may soon lose TPS protections as well.
Nicaraguans lost their protections last year. The ending of protection for Salvadorans, Haitians and Nicaraguans leaves fewer than 100,000 people in the program, which was signed into law by President George Bush in 1990.
Along with construction of the wall, these policies confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children and people, in pursuit of what Omar Jadwat, the director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, calls “a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy.”
Barbara Franz, Ph.D., is a political science professor at Rider University, and a Morristown resident.