Washington, DC—The Trump administration moved to end a humanitarian program that protected more than 300,000 Salvadorans, Hondurans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans, despite warnings from State Department experts that doing so could significantly impact regional security and migration, as revealed today in press reports. A letter, dated October 31, 2017 and sent from then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, warned that ending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for the four countries would have serious humanitarian and foreign policy repercussions. Attached to the letter were State Department expert assessments of country conditions, which concluded that none of the four countries were prepared to re-absorb the TPS recipients who would be forced to return to their country of origin after losing U.S. protections.
Despite the assessments by State Department experts, the Department of Homeland Security moved to terminate the legal status of some 2,500 Nicaraguans and over 50,000 Haitians in November 2017, followed by the termination of TPS for over 257,000 Salvadorans and Hondurans in January and May of this year. (In each case, the termination included an 18-month grace period to allow the affected individuals to prepare to leave the United States.) According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas, the Trump administration’s blatant disregard for the advice of State Department experts underscores the recklessness behind the decision to terminate TPS for Haiti and the Central American countries.
“State Department staff concluded that ending TPS would be a disaster for U.S. interests and the countries involved,” said Geoff Thale, Vice President for Programs at WOLA . “But the Trump administration went ahead and did so anyway, apparently more concerned about its anti-immigrant agenda than about real U.S. interests or about the human beings involved.”
This is not the first time that reports have emerged on the Trump administration repeatedly ignoring warnings on the consequences of ending TPS. An investigation by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spearheaded by Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his staff, previously found that the Trump administration ignored repeated warnings from senior U.S. diplomats and experts that sending 300,000 people back to their fragile countries of origin would harm U.S. national security interests and threaten the safety of these people and their children who are U.S. citizens. According to CNN, the assessments that State Department officials attached to the Tillerson letter said that the U.S. children sent back with their parents to Honduras and El Salvador would be vulnerable to gang recruitment.
“The Trump administration knew that terminating TPS for these countries would put the lives of U.S. citizen children at risk,” said Thale. “But as the White House has made all too clear with their unthinking and cruel immigration policies, they don’t care about how their decisions might upend the lives of vulnerable families and kids.”
The letter also notes that the termination of TPS could also generate a backlash from Central American governments, prompting them to take retaliatory actions like “withdrawing their counternarcotics and anti-gang cooperation with the United States… or refraining from efforts to control illegal migration.”
Since the termination of TPS, country conditions have exacerbated particularly dramatically in Nicaragua, where hundreds of people have been killed since the outbreak of protests on April 18, and Haiti, which has registered significant unrest resulting in the resignation of the country’s prime minister.