Return is not an option

By Linda Garrett, Member of CDA’s Board of Advisors

The announcement by the Trump Administration to rescind Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans was anticipated by immigration activists following similar decisions regarding Haitians, Nicaraguans, Sudanese and others last year. Some 86,000 Honduran recipients have been left in limbo until July 2018.

TPS was meant to be temporary until Congress passed immigration reform. Administration officials now argue that these countries have recovered from the natural disasters that permitted immigrants to live and work legally in the U.S. It is time for them to return, officials say, but their temporary legal protections must be revoked before the next step: deportation.

And deportation, in the view of administration policymakers is the destiny of all undocumented immigrants, by definition “criminals.” In June 2017 then-Acting Director of ICE, Thomas Homan was unequivocal: “If you are in this country illegally…you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder and you need to be worried.”

President Trump’s frequent and bellicose warnings of the threat from “terrorist” Salvadoran gangs was likely designed to heighten anti-immigrant sentiments, end temporary protection measures and justify massive deportations.

To qualify for TPS Salvadorans must have resided in the U.S. continuously since 2001 when two earthquakes devastated the country, but many arrived during or soon after the 1980-1992 civil war. Most have jobs and pay into Social Security and Medicare. Many own businesses and homes and have seen their children graduate from college. And throughout the years Salvadorans have sent remittances from hard-earned dollars back to impoverished family members. Those remittances – a total of over $4.5 billion in 2017 alone – have continuously amounted to approximately 17% of that country’s GDP.

The 1992 United Nations-brokered peace agreement ended twelve years of civil war but the politically polarized, impoverished and violence-ridden country is not equipped economically, socially or politically to receive returned “tepescianos,” as TPS recipients are sometimes called.

Yesterday’s announcement will disrupt the lives of some 200,000 Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries and their estimated 200,000 children who have been given 18 months (until September 9, 2019) to “make arrangements for departure.” Most of the children were born in the U.S. and are citizens; parents will be forced to make the agonizing choice to either separate the family or return to El Salvador with children who face an uncertain future in a country they may not even know.

TPS holders and DACA recipients are similarly vulnerable unless the DACA program is renewed. Before filing for legal protection all were undocumented and unknown to authorities; under the new policy, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans and others, and 800,000 “Dreamers” who came out of the shadows will be undocumented once again but now visible, known, and in danger of deportation.

TPS holders face months of agony. Many will look for legal alternatives, some will seek refuge in Canada or Mexico, but few will return to El Salvador, still the most violent country in the hemisphere. “There is nothing to go back to,” said Salvador Sanabria, Executive Director of the non-profit legal services agency El Rescate: “It is not an option.” Instead of leading productive lives, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing for family members in El Salvador, they will be forced back underground, leading fearful lives in the shadow economy.

Rescinding TPS for Salvadorans is another inhumane and short-sighted decision by this administration that will disrupt thousands of lives, contribute to instability in the region and certainly lead to further migration.


**Photo credit: Andrew Kelly/Reuters