The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced in January that the Trump administration will be ending temporary protected status for Salvadorans who have been living in the United States for nearly twenty years. Salvadorans represent the largest group of foreign nationals who have been granted temporary protected status (TPS). Numbering approximately 200,000, they constitute nearly half of the over 430,000 people whose TPS is in the process of being terminated or phased out.
TPS is a temporary legal status granted to foreign nationals who are unable, for reasons such as natural disaster, to return to their home countries. In the case of El Salvador, the initial grant of TPS came in 2001 after two earthquakes devastated the country, killing over a thousand and destroying tens of thousands of homes. The U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, made the decision to terminate TPS for Salvadorans on the premise that the temporary status is no longer needed, because the country has recovered from the devastation of the hurricanes.
This latest announcement that TPS will be ending is familiar. It comes on the heels of terminations of TPS for Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Administrations must review TPS periodically to determine if it is still appropriate for nationals of a given country. The last two administrations, one Republican and one Democrat, renewed TPS protections for Salvadorans every 18 months, on the grounds that El Salvador had not recovered from the disasters that led to the need for TPS. In addition, severe violence from drug cartels had led to instability in the country, making it dangerous for Salvadoran nationals to return. Just last February, the U.S. Department of State issued a warning about El Salvador, citing, among other things, that the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the world.
Temporary protected status for Salvadorans will end as of September, 2019. Salvadorans who had TPS and remain in the United States after that date will be undocumented immigrants, unless they are eligible for another form of legal protection.
This could be devastating not only for the Salvadoran nationals who are currently in the United States, but also for El Salvador itself. The reason: approximately 97% of Salvadoran nationals in the U.S. over age 24 under TPS are working, and paying taxes, here in the U.S.. About 80-85% of those workers send money back to family in El Salvador. According to political scientists, this amounts to more than $600 million per year. That amount is more than the amount of official U.S. aid to El Salvador, and equals about two percent of El Salvador's Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In addition, Salvadorans in the U.S. under TPS have given birth to 192,000 children who are natural-born citizens of the United States. Not only will the end of TPS devastate the families who have come to depend on the influx of funds from relatives living in the U.S., the end of the protection will tear parents apart from their children and send them to a now-unfamiliar country ill-equipped to welcome them.
Administration critics of the TPS program claim that a program that was created in order to provide limited, temporary assistance has now become a "back-door" into permanent residency in the U.S., and is an abuse of the system. Those who oppose termination of TPS for nationals of the four countries whose TPS has been terminated contend that ending TPS is inhumane, and that the countries are not capable of reabsorbing the individuals who had been living in the United States.
If you are a Salvadoran native and a beneficiary of TPS, doing nothing is not a wise choice. Since you will have a temporary legal status for about another 18 months, now is the time to begin laying groundwork to plan for the future. Even if it is not possible to remain in the United States under another legal status, you may need to make plans for your children who were born here. For Salvadorans who could soon be facing deportation to a home country they may barely remember, and the prospect of leaving American-born children behind, the earlier a plan is put in place, the better. Don't delay in seeking help; contact an experienced Maryland immigration attorney as soon as possible to examine the options available to you and to make a plan for yourself and your family.
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