Politics of Poverty

Is time running out for Central American migrants with Temporary Protected Status?

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Protester marches in New York City carrying a sign that reads "Dignity for all" in Spanish. (Photo: Diane Lent Greene)

Terminating the Temporary Protected Status program will impact thousands of Central American families who have lived in the US for years.

“It is absurd, and unconscionable, to speak of “re-integration” of people who have been forcibly returned to the untenable conditions that drove migration in the first place.”

– Oscar Chacon, Alianzas Americas

From time to time, I hire José Romero to help with those never-ending household repairs that are beyond my skill set.  José came to the United States in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch leveled his house and much of his community.  The category 5 hurricane was the second deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record, killing over eleven thousand people with an equal amount disappeared.  José, one of the 2.7 million people left homeless as a result of the hurricane, came to the United States to rebuild his life and create a home.

José is a master carpenter. In the years that I have known him he has built floor to ceiling bookshelves, replaced windows, and rebuilt the frame for the front door of my old row house.  His hard work has paid off.  He bought a house, started a family, and employs and trains young people.

José is not a US citizen but has Temporary Protected Status (TPS), an immigration authorization that allows him to live and work legally in the United States without fear of deportation.  A country is made eligible for TPS when the conditions do not exist for its citizens to live safely and thrive due to natural disasters, armed conflict, or other unsafe conditions.

Shortly after the 2017 inauguration, José and I talked about the growing xenophobic, anti-immigrant climate and the threats to his immigration status. He believed that only immigrants with criminal records would be targeted under the new administration and that he would be safe with TPS.

But this is not true.  In May, then Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly, charged with deciding whether to extend TPS for different countries, only gave Haitian TPS holders a six-month extension and suggested that they prepare to return to the ravaged island.  The current Acting Secretary of DHS, Diane Duke, will now have to make the same decision in early November for Hondurans and Nicaraguans, and in January 2018 for Salvadorans.  In total, we are talking about roughly 300,000 people who have lived in the US for 15 to 20 years, started families and businesses, paid taxes, and employed other people.

Today, Honduras and El Salvador vie for the unfortunate title of murder capital of the world. Homicide rates are eight times higher than the global average.  In El Salvador, for example, 437 people were killed in a ten day period (43 a day) from September 20 to 30 of this year – just last month.  In addition, these countries continue to be plagued by endemic poverty, corruption and impunity, and extreme weather events such as the hurricane that forced people like José to the US in the first place.

In a couple of weeks, DHS Secretary will determine the fate of José and tens of thousands of people like him.  We have to ask, though: is it really best for the United States to tear families apart, shutter businesses and gut communities in order to send us, our neighbors, and our friends into life-threatening conditions?

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