By January 2020, the Trump administration will have turned 400,000 people who are currently in the US legally into unauthorized immigrants.
The administration announced Friday that it is going to stop granting Temporary Protected Status — a protection given to people in the wake of humanitarian disasters in their home countries — to 57,000 Hondurans who’ve been living in the US for 20 years. They’ll have one last chance to apply for TPS for 18 months and will lose their protections on January 5, 2020 — making them unable to work in the US legally as of that date, and vulnerable to deportation.
Over the next two years, the Trump administration will strip TPS from immigrants from six different countries — all but strangling the program.
It’s doing so because it claims that Honduras has recovered enough from a 1998 hurricane to be safe to return to. The fact that, right now, Honduras is a place people are trying to flee due to systemic gang violence and civil unrest isn’t an argument in TPS holders’ favor, to this administration. If anything, it’s another strike against them.
Donald Trump is tearing out Temporary Protected Status by the roots
Temporary Protected Status serves as a form of humanitarian relief, offered to nationals of countries struggling with the aftermath of war, natural disasters, or other humanitarian crises where conditions on the ground make it difficult for people to return safely. Ten countries — El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — are currently in the program, which is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security and is granted in six- to 18-month intervals that can be renewed as long as DHS deems a designation necessary. Honduras has been granted TPS since 1999, in the wake of a 1998 hurricane.
To enter the program, nationals of a designated country must clear a number of conditions: They must maintain a relatively clean criminal record and pass a background check, they must pay a $495 processing fee when they first apply for the program and every time their status is renewed, and they must reside in the United States at the time of their country’s designation. This usually means that TPS beneficiaries are undocumented immigrants who were already in the US, those who overstayed a visa, or those who hold some other form of temporary immigration status.
TPS beneficiaries are granted authorization to work in the US (and in some cases the ability to travel internationally) and a reprieve from deportation. But outside of that, TPS doesn’t grant many other benefits; beneficiaries do not have legal permanent resident status, and while a small number of beneficiaries may be eligible for green cards through the sponsorship of a US citizen family member, the program is not intended to provide a path to citizenship.
In practice, that means that once a country’s TPS is up for review, presidents have two choices: They could renew TPS for that country, kicking the can down the road; or they could terminate it and give thousands of people no way to stay in the US legally.
Unsurprisingly, most presidents have chosen the former. But equally unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is taking the opposite approach.
The administration has announced that it’s winding down TPS, with one final extension, for six of the 10 countries that currently have it: Sudan, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Nepal, and now Honduras. Three of those — Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras — make up the vast majority of all TPS recipients.
The Trump administration has extended TPS for two countries, South Sudan and Syria, though it’s prevented any Syrians who’ve fled to the US since August 2016 from signing up. (It hasn’t had the opportunity to review the TPS designations of Somalia or Yemen yet.)
The administration’s actions have extended TPS for about 7,600 people. They’ve marked an end to it for about 390,000.
Hondurans with TPS have lived in the US for 20 years. To Trump, that doesn’t matter.
Trump’s break with precedent on TPS reflects a philosophical difference. For past presidents — and many, if not most, Americans — an immigrant who’s lived, worked, and raised a family in the US for several years (especially if they’ve done so legally) is more sympathetic than a similar immigrant who’s never lived here. And to most politicians, it’s important for the US to continue to take in at least some people fleeing humanitarian peril.
This administration strongly rejects any idea that it bears a humanitarian responsibility toward migrants. To the contrary: Immigrants who come from countries the Trump administration looks down on or distrusts are often judged for that reason. The premise of the travel ban is that the US’s assessment of a foreign government should control whether or not it accepts its nationals as visitors or immigrants.
And there are multiple reports suggesting Trump himself thinks people from poor and unstable countries — “shithole countries,” if you will — should be treated with prejudice. When senators presented a proposal to Trump that would have allowed TPS holders living in the US to apply for green cards, Trump reportedly objected with, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out” — as if the Haitians living in the US with TPS counted as “more” for the US to take in.
Hondurans with TPS have been in the country for 19 years or longer — they’re only eligible if they were here on December 30, 1998 — and 98 percent of them arrived before 1997, according to the Center for Migration Studies estimates. Nearly a quarter of Hondurans with TPS were younger than 15 when they came to the US, meaning they’ve spent more of their lives here than there. And an estimated 53,000 US-born kids had at least one parent who benefits from Honduras’s TPS designation.
The fact that these people have now largely settled here is one of the chief arguments for keeping TPS protections — indeed, that’s the logic that’s led the government to renew TPS for Hondurans 10 times already. But to the Trump administration, this is evidence that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the TPS program.
Trump is trying to send Hondurans back — over the Honduran government’s objections — to a country their compatriots are fleeing
The administration’s case relies on a straightforward, but narrow, reading of the law that created TPS.
To them, the “conditions” that justified TPS for Honduras were the 1998 hurricane; Honduras has recovered from the 1998 hurricane; therefore TPS needs to end. “The Secretary determined that 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,” the official statement read.
But the statute that created TPS also instructs the executive branch to consider whether there are “extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent aliens who are nationals of the state from returning to the state in safety.” And human rights groups make the case that it’s hard to argue that Honduras in 2018 is a state that can be returned to in “safety.”
While the country’s homicide rate has dropped substantially in recent years, to 42.8 homicides per 100,000 people, that’s still among the highest homicide rates in the world (by comparison, the US’s rate is about 4 per 100,000). Furthermore, unrest in the country after its contested election in November 2017 — in which the incumbent president claimed victory after several suspicious events and irregularities — has led to the deaths of 40 Honduran protesters at the hands of police. The unrest is one of the main reasons that Hondurans make up a large share of asylum seekers who traveled to the US in the Pueblo sin Fronteras “caravan” that has attracted so much press attention.
Even the Honduran government doesn’t agree with the Trump administration’s assessment of the country. Honduran officials have been pulling every string they can in the US to lobby the Trump administration to extend TPS, according to Alan Gomez of USA Today. The country was one of only a handful of countries to side with the US in a United Nations vote condemning Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
“We’ve demonstrated that we’re closely aligned with this country,” the head of the Honduran consulate in Miami told USA Today. “We’ve taken all their advice. The U.S. knows the efforts we’ve made. Now we’re asking for a favor, for help, for Honduras.”
Instead, the Trump administration is lashing out at both Honduras and Hondurans.
The Trump administration is creating more unauthorized immigrants than it can deport
On November 2, 2018, approximately 1,000 Sudanese will lose TPS and become vulnerable to deportation.
On January 5, 2019, approximately 5,300 Nicaraguans will lose TPS and become vulnerable.
On June 24, 2019, approximately 9,000 Nepalis will lose TPS and become vulnerable.
On March 23, 2019, up to 3,600 Liberians will lose their protections under Deferred Enforced Departure (a similar program to TPS) and become vulnerable.
On July 22, 2019, approximately 59,000 Haitians will lose TPS and become vulnerable.
On September 9, 2019, approximately 260,000 Salvadorans will lose TPS and become vulnerable.
On January 5, 2020, approximately 57,000 Hondurans will lose TPS and become vulnerable.
That’s nearly 400,000 people who have legal status right now but who, by 2020, will become unauthorized immigrants.
The Trump administration doesn’t have the resources to deport 400,000 people the minute they lose their protections. Threats about an end to TPS are really an attempt to encourage “self-deportation” — to get TPS holders to stop expecting they’ll be allowed to stay in the US forever and start working on a plan to return home.
It’s a strategy that might make sense if TPS holders were determined to stay in the US as long as it was legal for them to do so but to leave the minute they lost legal protections. But neither of those appears to be the case.
When Hondurans first qualified for TPS in 1999, more than 100,000 of them were protected, according to an estimate from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. That means that tens of thousands have left on their own (or adjusted to a more permanent legal status) even while they could have remained in TPS limbo indefinitely. The rest — the 57,000 or so who still have TPS, and who will lose it next year — have roots and decades here, and very little to return to.