The Trump administration made an official announcement on Jan. 8, 2018, to end TPS designation for El Salvador, which will officialy end on Sept. 9, 2019. This comes shortly after the administration’s decision on Nov. 20, 2017 to end TPS designation for Haiti, and after designation was removed for Nicaragua and Sudan.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, TPS, or Temporary Protected Status, allows individuals from foreign nations who are already in the United States to remain and work legally if conditions in their home countries are unsafe or if their nation will fail to properly provide for the returning citizens. There are several select countries which previously qualified for TPS protections, including Honduras, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Nepal and until most recently, El Salvador. Some 200,000 Salvadorans, who are the parents of around 192,000 American born kids, will be affected by this change.
Salvadorans were allowed TPS in 2001 after devastating earthquakes affected the country due to “environmental disaster and substantial disruption of living conditions,” The U.S. has since extended the program at 18-month intervals for the past 16 years a total of 11 times but for reasons other than environmental including violence, economy, housing and corruption. However, a December report by American University and the Instituto Centroamericano de Estudios Fiscales (ICEFI) concluded that El Salvador is not prepared for the influx of TPS recipients that would be sent back.
El Salvador is known as one of the most violent countries in the world, with some 15 homicides a day. Gang violence is prominent with the infamous fierce rivalry between the groups MS-13 and Barrio 18, which dominates neighborhoods in the country. Kids fear recruitment, and girls in particular fear being forced into relationships with gang members. Alongside police brutality and extortion, it is no wonder that TPS holders are concerned with being sent back and taking their American born children with them. Children raised and educated in America, who have established themselves and their dreams here may have to uproot themselves completely to move to a country they don’t consider home. Some may risk separation from their families as they stay behind in the U.S. for better opportunities, while their parents or other family members return.
Besides the security ramifications, the economic consequences are also dire, since El Salvador depends on remittances sent by Salvadorans living in the U.S. According to Inter-American Dialogue’s Manuel Orozco who has analyzed remittances between the two countries, some 150,000 with TPS send money back to El Salvador. That amounts to $600 million a year, which is $4,300 per immigrant, which is more than the amount of U.S. aid given to the nation. But it isn’t just El Salvador who will economically suffer–the U.S. will lose out too.
The Washington metropolitan area has the second-highest number of Salvadorans living in the country, at around 165,000 people, while they have the most Salvadorans with TPS status, at 32,000 people. Other major hubs include Los Angeles, New York and Houston. Many serve as janitors and cleaning staff for some of the most important buildings in D.C. including the White House, the Department of Justice and Walter Reed Medical Center.
TPS holders have established their entire lives, bought homes and started college funds for their kids, within the borders of the U.S. They know there is little to no opportunity for them if they return home and while many will attempt to file for legal residency, the task remains a difficult one. TPS does not offer a path to a green card or citizenship, although it does not prevent anyone from applying for a non-immigrant status. However, applicants must meet qualifications. For example, if a TPS recipient wanted to apply for a green card, he or she would need to be married “to a U.S. citizen, a job offer and sponsorship by a U.S. employer, or a grant of asylum.” But no matter how long you’ve stayed under TPS, finding a potential employee to sponsor you is difficult.
Unfortunately, there just might not be enough time for current recipients to find a pathway that suits them before the deadline. Until then, uncertainty remains.