The Trump administration has gone above and beyond to make it obvious that it regards most forms of immigration as unwelcome, though it depends on a person’s country of origin. Only a few days before reportedly referring to certain countries as “shitholes,” Trump’s camp announced that it plans to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) of Salvadorans that have lived in the United States since devastating earthquakes ravaged El Salvador in 2001. In doing so, the Trump administration could effectively force thousands of Salvadorans to evacuate the United States after building lives and homes for themselves for 17 years.
To prevent having a mass exodus of Salvadorans deported from the U.S. at one time, TPS recipients have until Sept. 9, 2019 to apply for green cards or make arrangements to return to El Salvador. This sudden, forceful measure was introduced despite the fact that TPS residents from El Salvador have had to renew their permits every 18 months since 2001, meaning Salvadorans have been continually checked and guided through their stay in the United States, despite popular belief that TPS recipients have a free pass into the U.S.
The TPS program was originally enacted by President Bush in 1990 and has since provided protected status to people from a number of countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guinea, Sierra Leon and Liberia. Reasons for applying TPS range from violence associated with civil wars to health hazards like the Ebola epidemic.
The earthquakes in 2001 did not result in El Salvador’s first TPS provision. In fact, the Central American country was the first nation to receive protected status benefits during the tail end of the Salvadoran Civil War, which spanned from 1980 to 1992. Salvadorans’ first TPS term ended in 1995 when the Department of Homeland Security deemed it suitable for Salvadorans to return to their home.
TPS stemmed from the Immigration Act of 1990, which vastly reformed immigration policy in the United States that was based on the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The original purpose of TPS was to provide humanitarian relief for people whose nations were unsafe for one reason or another. El Salvador has experienced two of the major reasons that a nation might face security issues: civil war and environmental disasters.
Both instances resulted in TPS benefits, though the 2001 earthquakes left structural damage that has endured almost two decades. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has, as of Jan. 8, 2018, declared El Salvador fit enough for Salvadorans residing in the United States to uproot their lives after 17 years and return to Central America. What Secretary Nielsen fails to mention in her consideration of El Salvador is the remaining safety factors that threaten its citizens, which compromise the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment of the country.
El Salvador is the most homicidal country in the world, and Salvadorans deported from the U.S. for various reasons have already faced life-threatening circumstances as a result of gang violence. If anything, El Salvador’s current condition warrants more intervention and protection for its citizens, not complete abandonment. Gang violence mimics the dangerous state produced by the Salvadoran Civil War that ended just 26 years ago, which did not only grant El Salvador protected status in the U.S., but it initiated the entire TPS program.
Secretary Nielsen and Trump’s Department of Homeland Security must recognize that Salvadorans currently in the United States — who have permits to legally reside and work as a measure of the humanitarian relief program — escaped a natural disaster in 2001, but would presently encounter bloodshed that mirrors the 1980s for Salvadorans. At this moment, TPS for Salvadorans is not an immigration issue, which is how the Trump administration paints it; the issue remains humanitarian at its core. Having thousands of Salvadorans deported and forced into violence only reiterates the moral vacancy of the White House.
Another consideration that Secretary Nielsen and the entire Temporary Protected Status program ignores is that a period of 17 years is longer than any legal immigrant must live in the United States in order to become a naturalized citizen. The only major difference between a green card holder and a TPS recipient is the temporal disparity in phrasing: green card holders are “legal permanent residents,” and people with TPS permits are, as the name suggests, only temporary residents. However, when Salvadorans fled their homeland in 2001, they likely had no idea that 17 years would pass before they would be potentially forced to leave the United States.
The transience joined at the hip of each Salvadoran TPS recipient was part of the original deal, and it’s expected that eventually they would return to El Salvador or apply for green cards in the U.S. However, both the current state of El Salvador in terms of gang violence and the length of time that Salvadorans with TPS have lived and worked in the U.S. alter the context of this particular humanitarian relief effort.
In wake of Trump’s recent comments about immigrants from “shithole” countries, TPS Salvadorans are likely low on the Trump administration’s list of concerns. Trump’s intense push for stricter immigration policy overlooks the fact that for 17 years, Salvadorans have been working hard for a living and contributing to American society.
TPS recipients, from El Salvador and elsewhere, must be given a fair opportunity to remain in the homes, towns and lives that they’ve created for themselves as a result of shocking destruction that was out of their hands. The one silver lining provided by Secretary Nielsen is that Salvadoran TPS recipients have over a year and a half to apply for green cards so they might continue with their lives.
Salvadorans deported from the United States in the coming 21 months are at risk of both uprooting and endangering their lives. What can come from these conditions is the recognition that TPS, while a noble humanitarian effort, could use amendments to consider context surrounding each case, namely when it comes to terminating the TPS designation for a nation that needs further relief efforts. While El Salvador’s current precarious state is completely different from the earthquake that caused the TPS designation, the violence that threatens the country is just that — violence. Salvadorans shouldn’t be subjected to life-threatening social conditions and displacement in one sweeping policy decision.