In the past year, the Trump Administration has announced terminations of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for over 300,000 individuals living and working in the U.S., many for more than two decades, from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and most recently, on May 4, 2018, Honduras.
TPS is offered to citizens of countries that have experienced natural catastrophes or civil conflict who are in the U.S. in any status when their country is designated for TPS, so that they can live and work here legally until the U.S. government deems conditions safe for them to return.
Recent reports from CNN and the Washington Post reveal that U.S. embassy officials in these four countries advised the Administration strongly against ending TPS, but that ultimately their warnings were ignored. Indeed, the State Department has had in place “Reconsider travel” warnings, one step down from its highest “Do not travel” warning, since January 2018 for El Salvador, Haiti, and Honduras. On May 4, 2018, the State Department updated its “Reconsider travel” warning for Nicaragua to order families of U.S. embassy personnel to leave that country.
Conditions in these countries are not ripe for wholesale repatriation of nearly 200,000 Salvadorans, 50,000 Haitians, 57,000 Hondurans and 3000 Nicaraguan TPS holders. Cholera, lack of housing and food insecurity in Haiti, rampant crime and lack of infrastructure in the “northern triangle” countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, plus political instability in the latter two countries, make it unsafe for their citizens with TPS in the U.S. to return.
In addition, these countries’ recovery depends in no small part on the money that TPS holders send home to their family members. As a summary of a June 2017 working paper from the International Monetary Fund states, remittances to Latin American and Caribbean countries
play key financing and stabilizing roles in Central America and the Caribbean. They facilitate private consumption smoothing, support financial sector stability and fiscal revenues, and help reduce poverty and inequality.
World Bank data shows that in 2016, remittances were 17.1% of GDP in El Salvador, 29.4% in Haiti, 18% in Honduras, and 9.6% in Nicaragua. While remittances worldwide fell slightly in 2016, in Latin America and the Caribbean, they rose over 7% from 2015 figures. And about 80% of Central Americans living outside their countries reside in the U.S., making those who are here the source of the bulk of remittances sent. Repatriating TPS holders will exacerbate poverty in these countries and will likely push more people to emigrate in order to survive.
Ending TPS will also harm the U.S. economy. One estimate pegs the costs of ending TPS in the U.S. for Salvadorans, Haitians and Hondurans at over $900 million just in employer turnover expenses alone. Over a decade, the U.S. would suffer a $45 billion reduction in GDP and nearly $7 billion in lost Social Security and Medicare contributions.
In a recent interview, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who formerly was Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said
we should fold all of the TPS people that have been here for a considerable period of time and find a way for them to be on a path to citizenship…. (such as) the Central Americans that have been here 20-plus years.
Various bills pending in Congress would do just that. Maine’s delegation should take the lead in pushing for legislation to create a path to permanent legal status both for young DACA/Dreamer adults, and for long-term TPS holders who are integral members of our communities and our economy, and who our own government officials on the ground have warned should not be returned.