200,000 Salvadorans May Be Forced to Leave the U.S. As Trump Ends Immigration Protection

Nick Miroff, Washington Post, January 8, 2018

In one of its most significant immigration decisions, the Trump administration said Monday that it will terminate the provisional residency permits of about 200,000 Salvadorans who have lived in the country since at least 2001, leaving them to potentially face deportation.

The administration said it will give the Salvadorans until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave the United States or find a way to obtain legal residency, according to a statement Monday from the Department of Homeland Security. The Salvadorans were granted what is known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, after earthquakes hit the country in 2001, and their permits have been renewed on an 18-month basis since then.

Monday’s announcement was consistent with the White House’s broader stated goal of reducing legal immigration to the United States and intensifying efforts to expel those who arrived illegally. But Homeland Security officials characterized the decision by Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in narrower legal terms: as a recognition that conditions in El Salvador have improved enough since the earthquakes to no longer warrant the TPS designation.

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The DHS statement noted that the U.S. government has deported more than 39,000 Salvadorans in the past two years, demonstrating, it said, “that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.”

DHS officials said 262,500 Salvadorans have been granted TPS permits, but recent estimates indicate that closer to 200,000 people with that status reside in the United States.

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“Only Congress can legislate a permanent solution addressing the lack of an enduring lawful immigration status of those currently protected by TPS who have lived and worked in the United States for many years,” the DHS statement read. “The 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution.”

Trump administration officials have repeatedly said they considered the TPS program an example of American immigration policy gone awry, noting that when Congress created the designation in 1990, its purpose was to provide “temporary” protection from deportation following a natural disaster, armed conflict or other calamity.

In November, DHS ended TPS for 60,000 Haitians who arrived after a 2010 earthquake, and for 2,500 Nicaraguan migrants protected after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

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Lawmakers from both parties who represent cities and states with large immigrant populations blasted Monday’s DHS decision, including Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), who called it “a shameful and cynical move” whose purpose is to “score political points with the extreme right-wing Republican base.”

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There were new signs Monday that TPS could end up as a bargaining chip in a potential congressional immigration deal. A source familiar with the negotiations said Congress could step in to help the Salvadorans, Haitians and other groups whose temporary protected status is now set to expire in 2019.

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