The White House is telling about 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants who have lived in the US for years that it's time to go back to their home country. More specifically, the Homeland Security Department is ending the special legal protections that the immigrants have had since 2001 under the Temporary Protected Status program. The DHS position is that the key word there is "temporary," but advocates say the move will hurt both the US and Central America. The details of what's happening:
- The protections: After earthquakes devastated El Salvador in 2001, the US bestowed TPS status on the nation, meaning even Salvadorans who had arrived in the US illegally could live and work here without fear of deportation. DHS chief Kirstjen Nielsen has concluded that the situation has improved enough in El Salvador to remove the TPS designation, reports the AP.
- The numbers: The move isn't a huge surprise given that about 50,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans similarly lost their legal status last year. But the Salvadoran decision affects by far the most people. The estimated 200,000 immigrants affected have about 190,000 American-born children, and roughly one-third are homeowners, per the Washington Post. The move means they have until Sept. 19, 2019, to leave the country or obtain legal residency. (A decision affecting about 57,000 Hondurans is pending.)
- Lifeline: El Salvador President Salvador Sanchez Ceren spoke with Nielsen last week and urged her to extend the protections, to no avail. One reason for his concern: Money sent home from the US plays a big role in the Salvadoran economy, reports the New York Times. About 40% of households there live below the poverty line, and money from abroad accounted for 17% of the economy last year. Most of it came from the US.
- Critics: GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley voiced a sentiment common among critics of the TPS program in a letter to DHS last year in which he complained that the immigrants were taking "jobs that might otherwise be filled by one of the 7.1 million unemployed Americans," per Bloomberg.
- Critics, take II: "We need to put the 'T' back into TPS," Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies tells the Times. "This has gone on far too long." He and others say TPS has widened far beyond the scope of its intent, to provide temporary relief to immigrants from nations torn by natural disasters or violence. El Salvador's status has been renewed 11 times.
- Counterpoint: Advocates say El Salvador is violent and impoverished, a too-dangerous destination for families. "The decision on El Salvador is particularly damaging,” says Kevin Appleby of the Center for Migration Studies. "It not only will uproot families and children who have lived here for years, it also will further destabilize an already violent country. It is incredibly short-sighted and undermines our interest in a stable Central America." The Washington Post talks to individual Salvadorans now fearing deportation.
- History: Though TPS came into play after the 2001 earthquakes, NPR notes that the vast majority of Salvadorans in the US came here in the 1980s and '90s during their nation's civil war. The move means that fewer than 100,000 people will remain protected under TPS, which was signed into law in 1990 by George HW Bush. That's down from more than 300,000 from 10 nations when Trump took office.
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