The campaign to save TPS
The decision by the Trump administration to terminate the DACA program in 6 months if the US Congress does not act to protect Dreamers is a blow for the approximately 28,400 Salvadoran young people who currently enjoy that protection.* But for El Salvador, the much bigger looming decision of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions is whether to extend or terminate Temporary Protected Status ("TPS") for approximately 195,000 Salvadorans in the US.
TPS is a humanitarian provision in US immigration law, which temporarily suspends deportations of persons to their home country after their home country suffers some type of disaster. The rationale is that the US should not deport people back to a country already stretched to the limits by an earthquake or a hurricane or similar catastrophe.
TPS exists for undocumented Salvadorans in the US following the 2001 earthquakes in El Salvador. Salvadoran nationals have been eligible for this status if they have been continually in the US since February 13, 2001, have committed no crimes and have registered during each subsequent 18 month period. Persons registered under TPS are not subject to being deported back to El Salvador, even if their original arrival in the US was illegal. TPS includes work authorization from the federal government allowing TPS enrollees to be legally employed.
There are approximately 195,000 Salvadorans in the US on TPS. TPS has been extended every 18 months since 2001 until now. Since TPS only applies to Salvadorans in the US as of February 12, 2001, each person on TPS has lawfully lived in the US for more than 16 years.
Recent studies by the Center for Migration Research at the University of Kansas and the Center for Migration Studies of New York provide a statistical profile of Salvadoran TPS holders:
- They have not committed a crime during almost 16 years on TPS status. (You cannot renew your TPS status with a criminal record).
- They are not in poverty. 83% of households with Salvadoran TPS holders have incomes above the poverty level.
- They are employed and hard working: 94.0% of men and 82.1% are working, with 83.3% of men and 54.9% of women working more than 40 hours per week. he average monthly income of the survey respondents is $2,910 (men=$3,598; women=$2,054).
- They own homes: 33.6% of men and 29.9% of women survey respondents live in owner-occupied homes.
- They work to improve themselves: 49.2% of them have furthered their education in the United States, enrolling in at least one educational program
- They pay taxes: 80.3% of survey respondents pay income taxes, including 79.3% of those who are self-employed. They have contributed to social security for an average of 15.4 years and 90% file taxes every year.
- They have US citizen children. Approximately 192,700 children have been born to Salvadorans on TPS.
The Center for Migration Research study concludes:
TPS holders have already fulfilled many of the requirements for lawful permanent residence—the overwhelming majority holds at least one job; they pay taxes and pay for their own insurance; they have clean criminal records (these checks are required with every renewal); and have demonstrated that they have the will to belong and become full members of society through homeownership and raising children in the United States. Many also have continued to advance educationally. Thus, whereas TPS grants temporary relief, it is not ideal to live in uncertain legality for 15 years (but often longer), especially when those in this status are already de facto members of society. This report has demonstrated the benefits that can ensue from legality, even temporary; it also has shown that moving these immigrants to permanent legal residence would be even more beneficial for the immigrants, their families, and for U.S. society in general.
Given this profile, one might well ask what would be gained by asking almost 200,000 hard-working, tax-paying residents of the US to pack up and return to El Salvador? Yet that seems to be the most likely course by the Trump administration when TPS comes up for expiration or renewal in early 2018. The decision seems to be foreshadowed by the decision by the US to grant a single, final six month extension for Haitian immigrants on TPS with the message they should use the 6 months to prepare to return to Haiti. If ever a country seems to be ill-equipped to receive the return of its migrants, it would seem to be Haiti.
Words from US government officials give no reason for optimism. US Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Manes reminded Salvadorans that the first word of TPS is "temporary" emphasizing that no one should count on TPS being extended indefinitely. In an interview with Univsion in June, then DHS Secretary John Kelly stated that TPS was never intended to last until a country like El Salvador was "rebuilt, rich, everyone is happy and there is zero % unemployment." Kelly went on to state that prior persons in his position had not done their job when they had simply granted automatic extensions to TPS, because the status is supposed to be temporary.
Another reason to doubt Trump will extend TPS looks at the fact that 80% of the beneficiaries with TPS are from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Currently, the gangs of Central America, particularly MS-13, are Trump's favorite demon when stirring up fear of migration over the US southern border. It seems unlikely that Trump would grant an immigration benefit to a region he has so denigrated in his public statements, notwithstanding the fact that TPS holders are law-abiding, non-gang-members who would be at serious risk from the gangs if forced to return home.
Despite the uphill battle, the government of El Salvador and immigrant groups are making an all out effort to get Congress and the administration to allow TPS holders to convert their status to permanent residency, or, at a minimum, to grant another 18 month extension to the 195,000 Salvadorans with TPS. El Salvador's Foreign Minister, Hugo Martinez, has been meeting with members of the administration and members of Congress trying to persuade them to extend TPS. At the same time, the opposition ARENA party and its allies are already placing the blame for a non-extension of TPS on the friendship of the FMLN with Maduro in Venezuela.
Immigrant groups are rallying their members under the hashtag #SaveTPS being used on social media and a website at SaveTPS.com with information on the advocacy effort. Representatives of AlianzaAmericas, a network of of organizations working with Latin American migrant communities
in the US, were in El Salvador this week meeting with civil society, the press and government officials to discuss the campaign to save TPS.
Time is running out. TPS expires for Salvadorans on March 9, 2018 and the administration needs to make a decision by January 2018. However, since TPS of Hondurans and Nicaraguans expires two months earlier, the Trump administration may announce a decision for the whole region in November if not earlier.
|Latin America Working Group Campaign|
* In previous blog post I have incorrectly stated that almost 50,000 Salvadorans were protected by DACA after mistakenly summing initial approvals and renewals. The correct number just counting initial applications was 28,371 as of March 31, 2017 according to USCIS statistics.