In the days ahead, the Trump administration will have to decide whether to extend or terminate the Temporary Protected Status program for the four countries of Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras, impacting more than 300,000 beneficiaries who have received temporary legal status in the United States.
The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program is given to people facing ongoing violence, disasters, or conditions that make their return impossible. Within these four groups, TPS recipients live in 206,000 households across the United States, a Center for Migration Studies report found, and many have children who are U.S. citizens.
Renewed by the government every few years, TPS for these four countries is once again up for debate, as the U.S. government gets ready to act on upcoming decision deadlines. According to the immigrant rights organization America’s Voice, the Trump administration is coming up on a November 6 decision deadline for 69,550 Hondurans and Nicaraguans, whose protections are set to expire on January 5, 2018. There is a November 23 decision deadline for 50,000 Haitians, whose protections are set to expire on January 22, 2018. And there is a January 8, 2018 deadline for 195,000 Salvadorans, whose protections are set to expire on March 9, 2018.
Through rallies, calls, petitions, and protests, advocates and experts have said it is a dangerous mistake to return existing TPS holders back to desperate conditions in these four countries. Deadly violence and poverty plague many regions in the Central American countries of Honduras and El Salvador, spilling into parts of Nicaragua. And Haiti has never fully recovered from a series of earthquakes and hurricanes.
Individuals on the TPS program have legally lived in the United States for decades and have made significant contributions to the country. In fact, ending the program would mean a $45.2 billion reduction in GDP over a decade and would cost taxpayers more than $3 billion, according to an April 2017 Immigrant Legal Resource Center report.
Here are some of the reasons why experts say TPS holders shouldn’t return to their countries of origin:
The U.S. government initially granted TPS status to Honduras back in 1998 in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, where water levels reached 10 feet in large cities, thousands were killed, and three-quarters of the country’s crops were destroyed. Cumulatively, more than 7,000 people died in Honduras and nearly 12,000 were injured, the Migration Policy Institute said, with an estimated 77 percent, or 5.4 million people, affected by the storm.
As of 2015, an estimated 61,000 Hondurans hold TPS in the United States, according to the human rights advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Honduran Minister of Agriculture Jacobo Paz has said the country doesn’t “have that capacity” to take people back on a mass scale. Experts like Geoff Thale, Program Director at WOLA agreed that mass expulsion could cause undue disruption to receiving countries.
“If you were going to deport a significant number of people and don’t expect it to cause enormous disruption to the countries to which they’re being deported, you need to have a working reception and integration system that helps orient people, helps them think about their safety and security in countries,” Thale said. “Otherwise, all you do is contribute to instability.”
Advocates also argue that it doesn’t make sense to kick out TPS recipients at a time when their skills are needed in the aftermath of a successive wave of hurricanes. Roughly 24 percent of Honduran TPS holders in Texas and 29 percent of TPS holders in Florida work in construction, a field that is necessary to rebuild those states after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
What’s more, Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates due to ongoing turf wars between Barrrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha.
Nicaragua, like Honduras, was hard hit by Hurricane Mitch. Whole towns were wiped out and the estimated economic damage to the country hovered around $1 billion. As of 2015, there were 2,800 TPS recipients from Nicaragua living in the United States.
“I did a lot of work after Hurricane Mitch and the country was hit hard,” Thale said, adding that he helped co-lead a WOLA infrastructure project in the country three to four times every year for some years following the hurricane.
There aren’t as many Nicaraguan TPS holders as there are from other groups, but it doesn’t mean the country should receive people who have lived and contributed to the United States for decades. According to the U.S. State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. citizens in Nicaragua “experience a significant number of violent and non-violent crimes” with the most frequently reported crime being theft.
Nicaragua is lucky among its central American counterparts, as it has been spared from the gang violence besetting the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Explaining that crime is “much less of a problem in Nicaragua,” Thale said the gangs in the country are much less involved with extortion as in Honduras and El Salvador and that the Nicaragua National Police are “more effective, less dishonest, and more community oriented police force” than in other countries. As a side note, Thale noted that the national police chief is Chief Aminta Granera, who once trained to be a nun.
But as a country with the lowest per capital GDP in central America, Nicaragua is also ill-equipped to receive TPS recipients.
“On per capita income, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Bolivia are the three poorest countries in the western hemisphere,” Thale explained. “Poverty is a real and continuing issue in Nicaragua.”
Roughly 50,000 Haitians in the United States have TPS in large part due to a deadly earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in January 2010. That earthquake left 1.5 million people homeless and injured 300,000 people. Since then, the country has faced a series of other natural disasters that have set back much of the progress the country has made.
In April, James McCament, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship of Immigration Services (USCIS), recommended a one-time six month extension for Haiti and a final termination on January 22. And in May, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials said they based their decision on the conditions that led to the initial TPS designation, not other factors that have since occurred since the 2010 earthquake. From that consideration, they considered conditions in Haiti to be “relatively stable.”
Yet advocates argue that the country of extreme poverty and low employment is unable to absorb 50,000 more people from the United States.
“The situation in Haiti is pretty sad in that the country has never fully recovered from the 2010 earthquake,” Carl Lipscombe, the deputy director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), told ThinkProgress. “Nearly two-thirds of those still on the islands are effectively homeless — they’re still living in temporary homes, which are oftentimes tents or huts.”
More than 195,000 Salvadorans in the United States have TPS and it is the first country to receive the TPS designation due to its civil war in 1990. Although the first TPS designation expired in 1992, country conditions did not improve, so those TPS holders were granted “deferred enforcement departure” through 1995. The United States, once again, granted TPS to Salvadorans in 2001 after two earthquakes hit the country that year. Roughly 16 percent of all Salvadorans living in the United States have TPS today, WOLA reported.
Even though the U.S. government doesn’t have to decide on El Salvador’s TPS status until early next year, the country’s violence problem won’t go away any time soon. Escalating tension between MS-13 and Barrio 18 have resulted in 679 homicides in 47 days, or an average of about 14 murders a day.
Having brought congressional delegations to El Salvador twice following the 2010 earthquakes, Thale said that very little suggests the country is ready to take back Salvadorans. The number of “people who are still squatting on extremely vulnerable land because they don’t have the money to own stable land to build a house is still very high,” Thale added.