Since November 2017, the Department of Homeland Security has announced the end of Temporary Protected Status for more than 300,000 people, many of whom have worked, paid taxes, and raised children in the United States for almost two decades after environmental disasters, armed conflict, or other extraordinary conditions forced them to flee their native countries.
Most recently, in May, the DHS ended TPS for 57,000 Hondurans, a decision that clashed with two decades of Republican and Democratic administrations who renewed the classification. The Trump administration defended its actions by stating that conditions have “notably improved” since Hurricane Mitch’s devastation hastened Hondurans’ arrival to this country in 1999. Critics argued that the administration willfully neglected to take into account Honduras’ “staggering” homicide rate, lack of safe drinking water for a large portion of its population, and its chronic childhood hunger issues as conditions for a TPS renewal.
The DHS previously delivered the same message to 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, and 9,000 Nepalis granted legal safe haven: Return to your original country before the administration-imposed deadline, or face deportation. While there are legitimate concerns about what constitutes “temporary” under TPS, the Trump administration has handled this legal and humanitarian issue in a manner that has not been appropriately thoughtful, fair, or humane, Fordham Law Clinical Professor Gemma Solimene said.
This comes as no surprise, Solimene observed, from an administration responsible for a constitutionally dubious travel ban barring citizens of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and a president who used an expletive to describe one of the countries whose citizens received TPS classification.
“This was not really aimed at protecting national security,” Solimene said of ending TPS. “This policy aligns very clearly with this administration’s targeting of immigrants, specifically immigrants of color, and the president’s divisiveness. And because he has the power in these instances to affect people’s lives, he’s using it.”
Fordham’s Immigrant Rights Clinic has clients whose lives will be upended by the end of TPS, Solimene noted. Among the clinic’s clients are children who faced abuse, neglect, and abandonment in their home countries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released them into the care and custody of a relative who has TPS. Now, their guardian, who has her own U.S. citizen children, faces the prospect of being forced to exit this country, where she has purchased a house, paid taxes, and obeyed the laws. In return for her contributions, she will be forced back to a country that offers her far fewer opportunities and far more dangers.
More than 23,000 Salvadorans, 9,000 Haitians, and almost 9,000 Hondurans hold TPS in New York City alone, according to the National Immigration Forum’s fact sheet.
“These people exist and are all around us,” Solimene said. “To deny that and bury our heads in the sand, saying now we’re getting rid of what some derisively call ‘illegals,’ is not appropriately dealing with the reality of the situation.”
The family Solimene works with is far from alone in its current predicament. Around 270,000 U.S. citizens have Haitian, Salvadoran, or Honduran parents at risk of losing TPS, the New Yorker reported.
“When you’re dividing these families, you’re also taking things away from our society,” Solimene added. “To just say, ‘you all have to go,’ is not really thinking through what that means.”
President George H.W. Bush signed TPS into law after Congress created it under the Immigration Act of 1990. At its peak, TPS allowed 435,000 people from 10 disaster-ravaged and war-torn countries to live in the United States. The Trump administration’s desire to shutter this longstanding humanitarian aid program should prompt serious discussion about comprehensive immigration reform, Solimene said. Such dialogue would undoubtedly include the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program that provides roughly 800,000 undocumented “Dreamers,” brought to this country at a young age, the ability to live and work openly. Trump has vowed to rescind DACA.
Instead of offering substantive critiques, Trump has repeatedly and falsely lambasted U.S. immigration laws as “the worst in the world.” His dangerous rhetoric sends the message that we shouldn’t have an immigration debate or consider what role our country has played in the contributing to circumstances that lead others to migrate here, Solimene explained.
“It’s hard for individuals to obtain permanent legal immigration status in the U.S.,” Solimene said. “You have a process they have to go through to prove that you have a means to do so under the law and then you have to prove your admissibility. If one is seeking asylum, they must be able to prove their claim of past persecution or future persecution. When you have the president’s rhetoric, it clouds the reality of what the immigration system is. All you’re hearing is that we’re letting them flood in.”
In recent weeks, Trump has called MS-13 gang members “animals”; reports have surfaced that government officials lost track of 1,500 undocumented children after placing them in the homes of sponsors; and the administration’s policy allowing border agents to separate hundreds of children from their undocumented parents has inspired widespread rebuke from immigration activists and Democratic elected officials.
“When you start looking at people like they’re not humans, then you can treat them like they’re not humans,” Solimene said. “The same is true with the population of black and brown people in the criminal justice system. It’s very clear with the language used and the actions that follow what’s going on.”
“The bottom line is, whether they’re gang members or not, they’re still human beings,” she said.
Losing Protected Status
Haitians will lose their TPS designation in July 2019. The Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation continues to reel from the effects of a catastrophic earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people and displaced an additional 1.5 million in 2010. DHS ended TPS for Haitians despite internal government concerns that the conditions that caused the classification persisted. In addition, the Trump administration collected information on Haitian TPS holders’ crimes, in an attempt to bolster its position to nix protections, the Associated Press reported.
Haitians and Salvadorans have filed suits against the government to prevent the administration’s TPS decision from going into effect. Salvadoran plaintiffs contend that the Trump administration’s TPS termination endangers their lives and is part of its “anti-immigrant agenda.” The federal government has argued the decision is not legally reviewable by a federal court.
“While the executive branch has a lot of power, and essentially there are things it can do in immigration that it can’t do in other areas, we’re still a nation of laws, processes, and procedures by which the executive branch has to exercise that power,” Solimene said. Still, she conceded there are limits on what the judiciary will be able to say in immigration matters such as TPS.
A very small number of individuals might find benefit from another part of the law that would help them obtain legal immigration status, Solimene noted. The majority of TPS holders won’t be granted permanent citizenship. What comes next in 2019–2020, when masses of people are placed in immigration court proceedings and don’t have protected status, is a matter the administration does not appear to have examined in any depth.
“The system is going to be overburdened, and that’s putting it mildly,” Solimene predicted.