May has been a fast-moving month in Washington, and one story almost got missed entirely — the fact that the Trump administration all but shut down the most abused immigration program we have, Temporary Protected Status.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen announced earlier this week that Hondurans protected under the program — roughly 60,000 individuals, according to The Hill — will have their TPS status terminated in the near future.
“To allow for an orderly transition, she has determined to delay the effective date of the termination for 18 months. The designation will terminate on January 5, 2020,” the DHS statement on the termination read.
TPS is supposed to allow non-residents who are nationals of a country ravaged by disasters — either natural or man-made — to apply for temporary residency in the United States if they’re already here. That seems like a pretty noble goal. Honduras, for instance, was added after Hurricane Mitch swept through the Central American nation.
So that’s the good side of TPS. The bad side? Well, let’s begin with the fact that Hurricane Mitch happened in 1998. That means these individuals have been “temporarily” in the country, allegedly waiting with baited breath for it to rebuild, ever since Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” was on top 40 radio. And, as the Federation for American Immigration Reform noted, most of the recipients are illegal aliens.
Honduras isn’t the only country whose citizens have received exceptionally-long TPS exemptions. Haiti received it in 2010 after earthquakes hit the country; that “temporary” status will only end in 2019. El Salvador received it in 2001 after an earthquake there; Salvadorians will also be here until September of 2019, a whopping 18 years. Sudan (and by extension South Sudan, since it didn’t exist at the time) received TPS designation in 1997 for a civil war that ended in 2005; residents of Sudan will see TPS end for them in 2018 whereas residents of South Sudan will have their TPS extended until 2019.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that for many illegal immigrants, TPS is a way around the system, particularly since those with TPS status cannot be detained by DHS because of their immigration status. They can also obtain an employment authorization document allowing them to work and can also be granted travel authorization to leave the country. While not necessarily a path to citizenship, TPS also doesn’t preclude recipients from applying for it, as well as “for any other immigration benefit or protection for which (they) may be eligible.”
In other words, this is exactly the kind of program Americans elected Donald Trump and a Republican Congress to eliminate. And, with the decision to excise Hondurans from the TPS rolls, the DHS has all but eliminated the program, at least in its current form.
“The decision to terminate TPS for Honduras was made after a review of the environmental disaster-related conditions upon which the country’s original 1999 TPS designation was based and an assessment of whether those originating conditions continue to exist, as required by statute,” the statement from DHS read.
“Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, 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. Thus, as required under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated.”
With Honduras’ 60,000 TPS recipients off the rolls, that leaves only 7,000 individuals from four countries still covered under the program. And, needless to say, the liberal tears are flowing like a river.
“U.S. immigration officials view Harold James Tatum as a Honduran but Tatum views himself as a New Yorker,” a suitably lachrymose piece published this week by NPR reads. “Tatum was deported to Honduras 18 years ago but he says he’s never really gotten used to it.
“‘I don’t even know the national anthem of this country,’ says Tatum, sitting behind a table selling jewelry near the beach in Tela on Honduras’ Caribbean coast,” the story continues. “‘I feel like I’m more American than I am Hondureñan because everything that I do is American, you know.’ For instance his boom box is streaming the New York radio station 77 WABC. It’s keeping him up to date on the latest twists in the Stormy Daniels/Donald Trump saga.”
It’s not until the fifth paragraph of the story that this gem is unearthed: “(Tatum) never got around to applying for American citizenship. In the mid-1990s after serving five years in prison for a drug conviction, Tatum lost his legal residency in the U.S. and was deported to the country of his birth, Honduras.” (Emphasis ours.)
That lede is so buried that strip miners might not uncover it.
Of course, most TPS recipients haven’t been convicted of drug offenses like Tatum. The problem lies in the fact that TPS is a good-faith program in which residency is extended to those whose countries have been ravaged by war or natural disasters on the assumption that they will make a good-faith effort to either return to that country or apply to change their citizenship status, should they be eligible. If not, then the government ought to step in and deport them.
When some TPS recipients have been here for over two decades, it’s clearly a broken program that needed to be fixed. Furthermore, safeguards need to be enacted to ensure that time limits are enforced on TPS in the future.
This program has already been abused for long enough. It’s time to make sure that TPS designations in the future are narrow, clearly outlined and time-limited. Without those precautions in place, TPS is transformed from a humanitarian program into a giant loophole.
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