Posted on July 26, 2018

Trump Admin Was Warned a Policy Change Could Strengthen MS-13. They Did It Anyway.

Tal Kopan, CNN, July 25, 2018

The Trump administration was warned that ending US protections for more than 300,000 Central Americans would strengthen and grow MS-13 and gangs that President Donald Trump has called “animals,” according to an internal report obtained by CNN.

But the administration went on to end the protections for citizens of El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua regardless.

The warnings came from experts at the State Department in October 2017, and were attached to a letter from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

The State Department also warned that ending the “temporary protected status” program could also hurt US national security and economic interests, including by driving up illegal immigration.

The program covers migrants in the US of countries that have been hit by dire conditions, such as an epidemics, civil war or natural disasters. Previous administrations spanning party had all opted to extend the protections for Central America every roughly two years.

“Many of the deportees would be accompanied by their US-born children, many of whom would be vulnerable to recruitment by gangs,” warned the section on Honduras.

“The lack of legitimate employment opportunities is likely to push some repatriated TPS holders, or their children, into the gangs or other illicit employment,” warned the section on El Salvador.

“With no employment and few ties, options for those returning to El Salvador and those overwhelmed by the additional competition will likely drive increased illegal migration to the United States and the growth of MS-13 and similar gangs,” the report added.


For Honduras and El Salvador, the analysis notes it “would not be contrary to the U.S. national interest” to let the immigrants stay, saying they were a “stable” population that has “successfully settled” in the US.

DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman noted that the agency made the decision based on legal requirements.

“The decision to terminate temporary protected status was made after a review of country conditions and consultation with the appropriate US government agencies,” Waldman said. {snip}

Administration still recommended ending program

But even as Tillerson himself warned of grave consequences in his letter, with the in-depth analysis by his experts attached, his State Department still recommended the protections be ended.


That was also the finding in the documents. But the career analysts also were clear that regardless of the statute, ending the protections for citizens of those countries would not align with US interests.


Documents reveal DHS knew ending protections could cause more, not less, illegal immigration

The October 2017 letter and supporting documents are now public as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, and were shared with CNN by the office of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


In each country’s case except Nicaragua, the department analysis recommended a wind-down period of 36 months before protections expired, saying immediate termination would cause the gravest risks. Tillerson recommended 18 months instead, which DHS adopted.

Tillerson in his letter also warned that Central American countries “may take retaliatory actions counter to our long-standing national security and economic interests like withdrawing their counter-narcotics and anti-gang cooperation with the United States, reducing their willingness to accept the return of their deported citizens, or refraining from efforts to control illegal migration.”


The documents add to a developing record that the administration seemed committed to ending TPS regardless of the consequences.