Department of Homeland Security Ends Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C.  — On Monday, January 8, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen declared that El Salvador’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will end on September 9, 2019, affecting over 200,000 Salvadoran nationals residing in the US.  El Salvador has been part of the TPS humanitarian program since the 2001 earthquakes that significantly damaged the country’s infrastructure, and before that from 1990-1992 during its civil war.

El Salvador received Temporary Protected Status following the 2001 earthquakes that caused widespread damage across the country. Photo Courtesy La Prensa Gráfica, via Associated Press.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provision within the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act to protect foreign nationals currently living in the United States by designating criteria upon which relief could be granted.

Prior to the implementation of the TPS program, the executive branch would designate certain countries for Extended Voluntary Departure (EVD), where immigration courts could exercise prosecutorial discretion to not pursue removal of nationals from those countries.  However, critics called the process too partisan and subject to political whims, citing the Regan administration’s failure to designate El Salvador for EVD during the civil war in the 1980s.

The program grants a temporary legal status—typically for a period of six to eighteen months—to migrants currently in the US who do may not qualify as refugees, but whose home countries are in some sort of crisis, such as civil unrest, wide-spread violence, or a natural disaster.  Applications have a $495 processing fee for the initial application as well as subsequent renewals. TPS beneficiaries may apply for a work permit and a driver’s license, and the TPS prevents their deportation.  According to the press release from the Department of Homeland Security, “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes [in El Salvador] no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.” However, the US government cited the pervasive gang violence as a factor for choosing to renew El Salvador’s TPS in 2016, and El Salvador remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with an average of 15 reported homicides a day.

Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly emphasized that TPS is ‘temporary’ after visiting Haiti in June 2017. Photo Courtesy Mark Wilson, Getty Images.

US foreign policy has itself severely impacted El Salvador’s current social climate.  During El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s, the US government backed a repressive right-wing military regime that left 75,000 civilians dead and forced 2 million people to flee to the US.  In the mid-90s, the US began deporting Salvadorans en masse, including gangsters incubated with the US prison system who would then go on to form the Salvadoran branch of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  The rising gang violence began a new wave of refugees—primarily unaccompanied minors or women with their children—fleeing El Salvador for the United States.

Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas—an immigrant advocacy group—said to Reuters, “Our (US) government is complicit in breaking up families — nearly 275,000 US-born children have a parent who is a TPS holder — and further destabilizing our neighboring countries.”

According to a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies, 51% of Salvadorans with TPS have lived in the US for more than 20 years, 34% have homes with mortgages and the majority of them live in California, Texas, New York and Washington DC.

Remittances to El Salvador from relatives abroad are at an all-time high and account for almost 20% of El Salvador’s GDP, while in 2016 the World Bank reported that economic growth had reached 2.4% and was the slowest growing economy of Central America.

El Salvador joins Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan as the fourth country in four months to lose its Temporary Protection Status.

For more information, please see:

Vox News – Thousands of Salvadoran TPS workers clean federal offices. Now their livelihoods are on the line. – 11 January 2018

The New Yorker – What the Salvadorans Being Kicked Out by Trump Face Back Home – 9 January 2018

Reuters – Salvadorans say going home not an option after U.S. axes protection – 9 January 2018

Vox News – Trump’s attacks on humanitarian immigration just became a full-blown war – 9 January 2018

The Guardian – US says 200,000 people from El Salvador must leave within 18 months – 8 January 2018

NPR – U.S. Ends El Salvador’s Protected Status, Affecting 200,000 Residents – 8 January 2018

The Intercept – Ignoring Violence in El Salvador, Trump Ends Years of Special Protective Status for Immigrants – 8 January 2018

The New York Times – Trump Administration Says That Nearly 200,000 Salvadorans Must Leave – 8 January 2018

Reuters – U.S. moves toward expelling 200,000 Salvadorans – 8 January 2018

The Washington Post – ‘We will lose practically everything’: Salvadorans devastated by TPS decision – 8 January 2018

Congressional Research Service – Temporary Protected Status: Current Immigration Policy and Issues – 17 January 2017

Author: Karina Johnson

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