Illegal Immigration?

On Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen, announced that El Salvador’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will not be extended. As a result, Salvadorans living and working in the United States under TPS will have 18 months to seek an alternative lawful immigration status or return to El Salvador.

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) was established within the immigration Act of 1990 to protect from removal nationals of a foreign country fleeing ongoing armed conflict or environmental disaster. The temporary nature of TPS does not directly lead to lawful permanent resident status, but does not prevent one from applying for it if elligible.

El Salvador was designated for TPS in 2001 following a series of earthquakes that are estimated to have killed or injured over 5 thousand people, destroyed over 100 thousand homes and caused $1.5 billion in damages. To be eligible, Salvadorans must have been continuously physically present in the United States before March 9 2001, the day their country was designated for TPS. Moreover, the TPS designation for each country is revisited every 18 months. If the designation is extended, all those previously approved for TPS benefits must reapply. As a result of these requirements, the number of Salvadorans receiving TPS is estimated to be just 200 thousand.

The decision to end TPS for El Salvador was made after a review by the Department of Homeland Security concluded that the extraordinary conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. That much seems fair. However, requiring that people leave a country they have legally lived and worked in for 17 years is not.

To its credit, I believe the Department of Homeland Security recognizes this potential injustice. In the press release for the decision, they insist that the 18-month delayed termination will allow Congress time to pass a legislative solution addressing the lack of a permanent lawful immigration status for those protected by TPS.

That hasn’t worked out in the past though. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provides individuals brought to the US illegally as children many of the same benefits as those designated with TPS. It was a compromise devised by the Obama administration after Congress failed to pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would have offered those who had arrived illegally as children the chance of permanent legal residency. The DREAM act was introduced in 2001 and still has not passed.

Luckily, the past does not dictate the future. The Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency (ESPERER) Act is currently making its way through Congress. ESPERER looks to offer those receiving TPS benefits an opportunity to gain permanent residency. There is still a chance that Congress can get this one right.