WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

5 Jan 2018 | Commentary

Trump Administration May Discontinue Temporary Protected Status for Hundreds of Thousands of Migrants

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a legal status, granted by the Department of Homeland Security, that offers undocumented migrants a stay of deportation and work authorization in the face of circumstances in their home countries that would make it difficult for the country to re-absorb them, if they were returned. Now, these migrants face an uncertain future as the Trump administration appears unlikely to renew the TPS designations that expire in 2018.

In August 2017, there were some 320,000 TPS holders from 10 different countries; the vast majority are from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti. Salvadoran migrants who were here when a devastating earthquake hit in 2001 have had their TPS status repeatedly renewed because of the difficulties that the country would have in re-absorbing them. Hondurans here since Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998 have had their status similarly renewed, as was for Haitians made eligible for TPS after the 2010 earthquake devastated much of Haiti.

On November 20, 2017 the Trump administration announced that it would end TPS for Haiti, meaning over 50,000 Haitians will lose their protected status and face the risk of deportation as of July 2019, despite concerns from the Haitian government about its capacity to absorb them. The Trump administration also ended TPS for Nicaraguans, meaning about 2,500 people will lose their protected status in January 2019.

It seems likely that the Trump administration will decide not to renew TPS for Salvadorans by the January 8, 2018 deadline. A decision for Honduras’ TPS designation must also be made by May 4, 2018. Should both El Salvador and Honduras have their TPS designation revoked, this could affect some 250,000 recipients of the program in the United States.

Both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress have called on the Department of Homeland Security to extend TPS, citing the serious consequences that failing to do so would have on the fragile economies of Central America, as well as the humanitarian impact on TPS recipients living in the United States. According to a study published by the University of Kansas in May 2017, over half of TPS holders from El Salvador and Honduras have lived in the United States for twenty years.

Facing the possible end of TPS designations, Congress should take up and approve legislation that provides these beneficiaries with a path to legal status. Here is why:

  • Failing to renew or legislate TPS for Hondurans and Salvadorans would needlessly tear apart families and communities across the country. There are currently approximately 200,000 Salvadorans and 61,000 Hondurans who hold TPS, who have been living in the United States for years and who are valued and important members of our communities. Studies have shown that the majority of these individuals have started families, joined the labor force, furthered their education, purchased a home, become active in their communities, paid income taxes and contributed to Social Security, and contributed to the country in many other ways.
  • Ending TPS would have negative economic consequences for the U.S. economy. TPS holders pay income taxes, contribute to Social Security and Medicare, and contribute to the U.S. GDP. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center estimates that TPS holders from El Salvador and Honduras contribute a combined $4.1 billion annually in salary income to the GDP, an amount that would be lost if their status were not renewed and their employment were terminated. Additionally, the study found that these individuals pay a total $525 million in total Social Security contributions and $122 million in Medicare contributions per year. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center also reported that deporting all Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Haitians would cost the U.S. taxpayer $3.1 billion.  
  • Returning hundreds of thousands of former TPS holders to Honduras and El Salvador would have damaging effects on their home countries. The governments of Honduras and El Salvador are unprepared to receive these individuals. Both countries have not fully recovered from the natural disasters that resulted in their original designation, while conditions have been further affected by the fact that El Salvador and Honduras are ranked as among the most violent countries in the world, and job opportunities are scarce. The potential return of hundreds of thousands of TPS holders to Honduras and El Salvador would likely bring destabilizing consequences throughout the region, and would undermine U.S. efforts to advance prosperity and security in Central America.

*This is an updated version of a commentary from August 2017.