The Trump administration continues to play a macabre numbers game with the lives of immigrants in its latest act of cancelling Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who have been legally present and living, working and contributing to the United States for twenty years. The program will terminate in 18 months, on September 9, 2019.
The abrupt act adds another easily identifiable and locatable 200,000 persons, and potentially their 193,000 US citizen children, to the administration's hate list of "bad hombres", as President Donald Trump was wont to declare during his presidential campaign, and feed the federal deportation and detention machine.
These hundreds of thousands of people will be added to approximately 60,000 Haitians who were granted TPS in 2010 after another catastrophic earthquake that also drew worldwide attention destroyed their island nation. Haitians with TPS will lose their status in July 2019.
In the case of Haiti, a call by former DHS head John Kelley was issued in May 2017 for Haitian earthquake victims to hastily re-register with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to maintain their status, only to be followed by acting DHS Secretary Elaine Costanzo Duke's declaration in November announcing the program's termination in July 2019. The descendants of Irish and Sicilians respectively, Kelley and Costanzo Duke share immigrant roots with President Trump, whose mother left a poor island off the coast of Scotland, and four of his five children, whose mothers emigrated from formerly Communist countries in Eastern Europe.
Formerly chief of staff under Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen took over the reins of DHS in December. Prior to that, Nielsen was president and chief counsel for Civitas Group. In her statement regarding the decision to terminate TPS for Salvadorans, Nielsen asserts that the conditions which led to the initial program in 2001 no longer exist and that the government is "required" to end the program. Similar to the termination process for Haitians, Salvadorans must re-register their personal information, though the details about how to do so are still murky.
"Salvadorans with TPS will be required to re-register for TPS and apply for Employment Authorization Documents in order to legally work in the United States until the termination of El Salvador's TPS designation becomes effective Sept. 9, 2019. Further details about this termination for TPS, including the re-registration period, will appear in a Federal Register notice. Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries should not submit re-registration applications until the re-registration period is announced through the Federal Register notice."
Nielsen is already familiar with natural disasters and high death tolls. She was the Bush administration's Director of Prevention, Preparedness and Response during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when 1800 Americans were killed and more than a million displaced. DHS oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which failed to provide timely assistance to Katrina victims and is similarly failing to respond adequately to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria.
Registered Salvadorans have a year and a half to prepare before their status is terminated. Speaking to Spanish-language television station Univisión this morning, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida had this to say: "They've been here for 20 years. What have they done for these twenty years? They've worked, they've contributed. They haven't caused any problems. They've had a positive effect. [Ending TPS] is a problem and it is a mistake."
The TPS program for Salvadorans was granted by Republican President George W. Bush in March 2001 as a result of the devastating earthquakes that struck El Salvador in January and February of that year. The series of earthquakes were so horrific that the US government quickly granted Salvadorans already or recently arrived in the United States with universal support.
"El Salvador suffered a devastating earthquake on January 13, 2001, and experienced two more earthquakes on February 13 and 17, 2001. Based on a thorough review by the Departments of State and Justice, the Attorney General has determined that, due to the environmental disaster and substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquakes, El Salvador is 'unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return' of its nationals. 8 US C. 1254a(b)(1)(B).
"By the authority vested in me as Attorney General under section 244 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended (8 US C. 1254a), and after consultation with the appropriate agencies of the Government, I find that:
"(1) El Salvador has endured three severe earthquakes resulting in a substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions in El Salvador; (2) El Salvador is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return of its nationals; (3) The Government of El Salvador officially has requested designation of El Salvador for TPS; and (4) Permitting nationals of El Salvador (and aliens having no nationality who last habitually resided in El Salvador) to remain temporarily in the United States is not contrary to the national interest of the United States."
The attorney general's office had repeatedly determined that conditions were not satisfactory for the return of those displaced by the earthquakes that killed 1,000 and displaced a million people, and renewed TPS for almost 20 years. Firstly, the earthquakes came shortly after a decade's long civil war that claimed the lives of at least 100,000 Salvadorans. In addition, the rise of organized criminal gangs like MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha or the 13th Street gang, and Barrio 18, both of which originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s and found a foothold during and in the aftermath of the civil war when some of its leaders were deported there, has caused El Salvador to have one of the highest homicide rates in the world. According to the most current US State Department Travel Warning:
"The Department of State warns US citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to El Salvador due to the high rates of crime and violence. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide levels in the world and crimes such as extortion, assault and robbery are common."
For young people targeted by gangs, life became so untenable that Salvadorans made up a quarter of the wave of unaccompanied minors who fled to the US border with Mexico during the summer of 2014. Over 100,000 children were encountered by US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) between 2013 and 2014.
El Salvador's economy is bolstered by money transfers from the United States, which totaled $4.5 billion last year, far more than the "millions" Secretary Nielsen claims were sent in aide to that country to help repair it after the earthquakes. Speaking to Univisión, Democratic Representative Luís Gutiérrez of Illinois candidly called the governmental action "racist" and had this to say on his website:
"The White House is peddling a fantasy where hundreds of thousands of people who have established their lives, families, and businesses in the US for decades will leave or can be rounded up and deported. Turning immigrants living and working legally in the US into undocumented immigrants defies logic, even for this President."