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Temporary Protected Status for El Salvador: Findings of a Refugees International Research Mission

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TEMPORARY PROTECTED STATUS FOR EL SALVADOR

In early 2018, the Trump Administration will decide the fate of some 200,000 Salvadorans who are living in the United States. By January 8, the Secretary of Homeland Security must decide whether or not to extend the designation of El Salvador as a Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-designated country. Should the Secretary decide not to extend TPS, some 200,000 Salvadorans will be subject to deportation.

Most of the Salvadorans facing possible deportation are parents to U.S.-born children and have known no home other than the United States for almost two decades. The TPS statute clearly provides the Trump Administration with the legal authority to extend TPS for 18 months in this particular circumstance, and humanitarian, human rights and ethical imperatives – as well as the promotion of peace and stability in El Salvador – demand that TPS be renewed and that Salvadoran beneficiaries and their families not be forced to return.

This policy brief outlines the findings from a field mission to Central America, undertaken by Refugees International in November 2017. The report provides a fact-based and realistic assessment of the significant implications if TPS designation for El Salvador is not renewed.

Summary

In the next few weeks, the Trump Administration will decide the fate of some 200,000 Salvadorans who are living in the United States. By January 8, 2018, the Secretary of Homeland Security must decide whether or not to approve an extension of El Salvador as a Temporary Protected Status (TPS)-designated country. Should the Secretary decide not to extend TPS, some 200,000 Salvadorans will be subject to deportation. Most of the Salvadorans facing possible deportation are parents to U.S.-born children and have known no home other than the United States for almost two decades. The TPS statute clearly provides the Trump Administration with the legal authority to extend TPS for 18 months in this particular circumstance. Based on the findings of a November 2017 Refugees International mission, RI concludes that humanitarian, human rights and ethical imperatives — as well as the promotion of peace and stability in El Salvador — demand that TPS be renewed and that Salvadoran beneficiaries and their families not be forced to return.

Background

The Temporary Protected Status legislation enables the U.S. government to protect eligible foreign nationals in the United States from being returned to their countries of citizenship when those countries experience: 1) armed conflict that prevents safe return; 2) an earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic or other environmental disaster rendering the foreign state unable to handle adequately return of its nationals; or 3) other extraordinary and temporary conditions in the foreign state that prevent safe return. The Secretary of Homeland Security is authorized to designate a foreign country with TPS for six to 18 months and, when that period ends, is further empowered to extend TPS for six, twelve or eighteen months if the Secretary determines “the conditions for such designation…continue to be met.”

El Salvador was designated with TPS on March 9, 2001, after two devastating earthquakes earlier that year which led to the deaths of more than one thousand people, affected 1.5 million Salvadorans, and caused an estimated US$1.66 billion in damages.2 El Salvador’s TPS status has been extended continually by subsequent U.S. administrations, beginning with the administration of George W. Bush. The most recent extension was conferred in 2016, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) noting that “conditions in El Salvador supporting the TPS designation continue to be met.”3 As USCIS indicated in its statement less than two years ago, living conditions in El Salvador continued to be substantially impacted as a result of the earthquakes. That remains the case today, while other socio-economic, political and security challenges in El Salvador have only made it more difficult to address pervasive impacts of the earthquakes.

This circumstance provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with ample authority to renew TPS for 18 months. The question is whether, for humanitarian, human rights and ethical reasons — as well as to promote peace and stability in El Salvador — the Secretary should use her authority to do so.

Refugees International (RI) recently concluded a mission to Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador, where it researched the mounting protection and humanitarian challenges migrants, asylum-seekers, and deportees face. Based on its findings, RI is convinced that El Salvador is not in a position to absorb the return of its nationals safely and in a manner that addresses basic needs, and that such return will have serious and substantial negative human rights and humanitarian implications. This is due primarily to the ongoing violence in El Salvador and the unwillingness or inability of the Salvadoran government to provide adequate reception conditions for returnees.