The Temporary Protected Status of Haitian and Central American Immigrants Could Be in Jeopardy


Hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Central Americans who fled violence and natural disasters and were welcomed into the U.S. through the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program are now worried that the Trump administration will soon send them packing.

By only briefly extending the status for Haitians last May, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary and current White House Chief of Staff John Kelly already had signaled that their time here likely is “limited.” Now, deadlines are looming for the administration to decide whether or not to renew TPS for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans.

Based on the Trump administration’s behavior on immigration policy in the past nine months, we should expect this decision to be equally heartless and callous, despite TPS recipients being well–established in the country and thoroughly vetted by public security agencies.

According to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), citing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, more than 420,000 immigrants in the U.S. have TPS, a status that was created by the 1990 Immigration Act. This act, as NACLA points out, “protects otherwise undocumented immigrants from being deported to countries that the White House may designate as unable to safely repatriate their citizens due to devastation by natural disaster, armed conflict, or other emergency circumstances.”

While TPS is temporary, it has served as a useful diplomatic tool between countries, it has benefitted the U.S. as well as the immigrants who have the protected status, and it has helped in some ways to address historical wrongs committed by U.S. foreign policy operators in the region.

Some immigrants in the TPS program have now resided in the U.S. for decades, established careers and homes here, and raised families. Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians granted TPS have raised 273,000 U.S.–born children, according to NACLA.

As The Washington Post noted:

Permission to stay must be periodically renewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and in the coming weeks, the agency will decide the fate of about 195,000 Salvadorans, 57,000 Hondurans, 50,000 Haitians and 2,550 Nicaraguans. Once the protections lapse, those immigrants would be subject to deportation.

DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke reportedly has not yet made a decision on the issue. But past statements by Kelly and statements this week by a DHS spokesman seem to indicate that the administration isn’t leaning toward a long–term extension of the program or working to find another comparable solution.

The Post reported that officials have said that returning the migrants to their countries of origin would add “skills, values and investment capital” to those countries, a troubling claim given the reality on the ground where poverty, violence, and instability continue to plague the region.

Deadlines for a DHS announcement are Nov. 6 for Hondurans and Nicaraguans, and Nov. 23 for Haitians. Those programs are set to expire on Jan. 5, 2018 for Nicaraguans and Hondurans, and on March 9, 2018 for Salvadorans. The status for Haitians also expires in January.

In September, the DHS announced it would end TPS for people from Sudan next month.

Last July, several senators sent a letter to the State Department and DHS urging officials to extend TPS. This week, several Democratic senators sent a similar letter to Duke and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

All of this has migrants with TPS clearly concerned. In response, several have joined other groups to form the National TPS Alliance, an advocacy organization that is holding events and awareness campaigns in various cities throughout the U.S. to draw attention to the issue and plan advocacy work.

Currently, the alliance is holding an ongoing mobilization called #SaveTPS in Washington, D.C., through Oct. 25. Events and actions include workshops on how to organize community responses and lobby lawmakers, visits to Capitol Hill, and a planned hunger strike, among others.

A full schedule of upcoming D.C. events is posted here.

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