Over 300,000 Central Americans living in the US no longer need to be protected from deportation, the State Department told DHS officials this week.
As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained in a letter he sent to acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke, the current conditions in Haiti and Central America do not justify protection from deportation.
The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program was established in 1990 to protect foreign nationals from being sent back to dangerous conditions caused by war or natural disaster. The program currently protects over 400,000 migrants living in the US.
The DHS has until Monday to announce whether TPS protections will be renewed for an estimated 57,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans who fled to the US after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America in 1998. The agency has until November 23rd to make the same decision for 50,000 Haitians, who received protected status after an earthquake in 2010.
In January, it will have to make another tough decision for 200,000 TPS holders from El Salvador.
Tillerson’s letter is not an official recommendation, but it could have significant influence on the DHS’s decision.
“Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and remains in the grips of a cholera epidemic triggered by UN troops who were sent after the earthquake,” reports The Washington Post.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez has urged President Trump to renew protections for the “honest” and “hardworking” Honduran migrants living in the US.
Critics argue that removing TPS protections would be a cruel punishment for law-abiding immigrants, who would be forced to choose between staying here illegally or leaving their homes and families. The leftwing Center for American Progress estimates that protected immigrants have 275,000 US-born children.
Trump officials argue that the TPS program was never intended to be a pathway to long-term residency. Disasters that happened decades ago should no longer be used to justify protected status.
“It is fair to say that this administration is interpreting the law, exactly as it is, which the previous one did not,” said one administration official. “With this particular law, it is very clear to this administration what needs to be done.”
White House officials also note that returning migrants will come home with new job skills and personal savings acquired from living in the US. This could benefit struggling countries in Central America.
The official decision has not yet been announced. If the DHS decides to end TPS protections, affected immigrants will be given at least six months to prepare for departure.
Author’s Note: A key element of Trump’s presidential campaign was his promise to deport large numbers of illegal immigrants, and many are viewing the upcoming DHS announcement as a test to see if his administration will follow through with that promise.