CARECEN SF Senior Staff Attorney
On May 4, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the end of Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for approximately 57,000 Hondurans living in the United States. This follows a string of aggressive policy moves intended to expel long-term residents of the U.S. Over the next two years, more than 300,000 individuals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan who are lawfully present in the U.S. will be asked to depart voluntarily or face deportation. As a result of this unwise policy shift, America will face a looming economic and humanitarian crisis.
TPS offers legal protection to nationals of countries experiencing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary conditions. Since 1990, the program has provided relief from deportation and work permits to those who were already present in the U.S. at the time of designation. In order to qualify, TPS applicants are required to pay a fee and pass a background check. While temporary by design, extensions have often been granted for countries facing long-term civil strife.
Current conditions in the country-of-origin along with the precipitating crisis have historically been considered in deciding whether to extend TPS. In its most recent travel advisory, the U.S. State Department warned against travel to Honduras, noting that “Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world” while also facing a roiling political crisis. However, despite overwhelming state-acknowledged evidence in support of TPS extension, DHS has moved to end protection for Hondurans. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen offered a meteorological and disaster-relief argument, declaring: “the disruption of living conditions in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch that served as the basis for its TPS designation has decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial.”
It doesn’t take a meteorologist to see that the hurricane that ravaged Honduras in 1998 has long passed. Yet, in a drastic reversal of decades of bipartisan policy, the Trump Administration has chosen to ignore intervening circumstances, from rampant violence to creeping political destabilization. The Trump administration argues, contrary to previous Republican and Democratic administrations, that if the initial cause for TPS has ended, so too must the protection. That doesn’t make sense.
As a senior immigration attorney with the San Francisco-based Central American Resource Center (CARECEN SF), I have represented dozens of clients with TPS. Our clients include schoolteachers, healthcare providers, and construction workers. Many have been in the U.S. for over twenty years, fallen in love, purchased homes, and started families. One client has worked for the same Fortune-500 Company for over fifteen years, rising through the ranks to become a supervisor. Another is a pastor at a local church. In short — they are an integral part of our national cultural and social fabric. Uprooting and deporting them isn’t right or good for our country.
To illustrate, consider Laura and her husband Marco, who entered the U.S. on tourist visas in 1998. A few months into their visit, Hurricane Mitch tore through Honduras, washing away entire neighborhoods in massive floods. Laura and Marco were granted TPS, and their status was renewed over the following decades. They now have three children and own a home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Should Laura and Marco leave their children here as wards of the state when TPS expires? Should they take their children abroad, uprooting their lives and depriving them of their right as U.S. citizens to grow up in America? Cutting off TPS will separate families, which flies in the face of core American values.
Ending TPS without providing a path to permanent residency will also bring dire economic consequences. In California alone, the Center for American Progress estimates employers will incur close to $1 billion in turnover costs for lost employees as work permits expire. Rescinding work authorization will result in over $164 billion in lost GDP and $6.9 billion in lost Social Security and Medicare contributions over a decade.
What is more, Americans will get stuck holding the bill. The cost to taxpayers of detaining and deporting TPS beneficiaries will total more than $3 billion, according to a report by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
In a recent meeting on Capitol Hill, a Republican staffer asked me why Congress should vote to provide a pathway to permanent residency for TPS beneficiaries if the word “temporary” is right there in the name. To be sure, nobody expected “temporary” status to last twenty years. But what is in the best interest of the United States? To nitpick about how a program is named, or to sustain immigration policies that create shared prosperity aligned with our moral character as a nation?
Fortunately, it’s not too late to avoid this manufactured crisis. A bill in Congress called the American Promise Act (H.R. 4253) would give many long-term TPS beneficiaries the opportunity to seek permanent residency. Unsurprisingly, this important legislation has stalled. We must demand smart and ethical action from our representatives, or we all stand to lose out.
Matthew Weisner is a Senior Immigration Attorney at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN SF) and a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA)