Here at Morton Law, PLLC, we are proud to share the views from members of our legal team as they address, and thoughtfully challenge, certain immigration changes with facts and legal research. As such, this month’s blog will center around the legal immigration benefit known as “Temporary Protective Status.”
A popular voice on the extreme right, columnist, and common guest on radio and TV shows, Ann Coulter, expressed an idea that reflects a great problem with the popular understanding of TPS. In a tweet on November 7, 2017, she says that Central Americans are getting amnesty because of an earthquake back in 1999 (https://twitter.com/anncoulter/status/927969528268681216). There are several issues with this tweet; first, Nicaragua TPS has ended, TPS is not amnesty, and TPS is based on the problems caused by the 1998 Hurricane Mitch, and not an earthquake in 1999. Beside these undeniable inaccuracies, there is the deeper issue of humanitarian concerns that I feel compelled to address.
First, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) has been part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) since 1990 and can be found in INA 244. It authorizes qualified individuals of countries designated by the government to remain in the United States temporarily, and grants them work authorization for that same temporary period. However, TPS, per se, does not place anyone on the track for Lawful Permanent Status (green card), much less citizenship in the US. Certain countries receive designation for TPS due to great natural disasters or wars which make it extremely harmful for their citizens living in the US to return to their country of origin. Additionally, the length of TPS granted to an individual is only 18 months, and then the US government reevaluates the conditions of the foreign country to determine whether an extension of the TPS is warranted. Furthermore, the citizens of the nations which benefit from TPS must meet specific criteria, including the following: 1) they were in the US before the TPS determination was made for the country (as to avoid being an incentive for people to come into the US); and 2) they go through a public safety and national security clearance process.
Please note, Honduras and Nicaragua are not the only countries with TPS. There are a handful of others including El Salvador, Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Through the years, several other countries have been on and off the list. Since it is the case that countries go on and off of the list, then why is there such turmoil now about the end, and potential end of, TPS for Haiti, Nicaragua, and Honduras? Following this logical inquiry, we arrive to the heart of the humanitarian concerns and issues mentioned above.
Haiti, Nicaragua, & Honduras
The Haitian case is obvious. It is the 17th poorest country in the world and the poorest in the western hemisphere. The earthquake of 2010 (which granted the TPS qualification) was devastating, as were diseases like cholera that were brought in by foreign teams doing relief work, as well as hurricanes and tropical storms that have since landed there. Sadly, there is simply not much to return to for Haitians on TPS.
However, the countries of Nicaragua and Honduras present a unique case. First, these two countries have been under TPS for the longest period of years by far. Secondly, most of the other countries with TPS have had the option of applying to have their people come to the US as refugees. Notably, the US program that once allowed minors from these TPS countries to apply for refugee status has been canceled.
Arguably still, the most concerning issue presented is the fact that most individuals who are losing TPS are people who have had this status for almost 19 years; meaning, most of them have been living in the US for over 20 years. These individuals have over 20 years here in the US and have raised, or still are raising, a family, working, contributing to the economy, and having their criminal records checked every 18 months.
So, it doesn’t matter that the hurricane happened in 1998. The preliminary issue here is that we have 1) allowed these individuals to build lives here; and 2) their countries are still in no position to receive them back because the country conditions are still extremely insecure, violent, and actively forcing people to emigrate. It has been the US, not the TPS beneficiaries themselves, that has permitted the presence of these people in the US all these years. Therefore, the main issue is not how long ago the reason for the qualification happened, rather it is that we have allowed for this benefit to be granted for almost two decades, and as such, we have created a situation which cannot be so easily resolved by simply terminating the program.
One can see there is no benefit to the US in ending this program and deporting these people. There is no fairness or justice in that either, regardless of how legal it may be. Most have families that include US citizens children who would suffer from being separated from parents and supporters. This will have a bigger negative impact on society at large as many of these families will become more dependent, and will foreseeably need to accept tax funded public benefits. The direct impact on the actual people that lose TPS will be disastrous. If they are deported from the US back to their countries of origin it could be, for some, a death sentence, as many will be targeted because local gangs will assume that they came back with money. For all of them, it will mean returning to a country that they no longer know, as they have been away over two decades, which will be compounded by conditions of misery in these places and the separation from their families. The termination of TPS is definitely a lose-lose scenario if one were to simply analyze the history, facts, and disadvantageous consequences of this politically motivated decision.