Lawmakers from across the country are trying to build support in Congress to pressure President Donald Trump to allow nearly 300,000 immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador to stay in the country, adding to a growing pile of requests facing a White House that is trying to reduce, not expand, legal immigration.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the House are collecting signatures on a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke that calls on the administration to extend protections for people these lawmakers say are now part of the community.
“Failing to renew TPS would needlessly tear apart families and communities across the country,” the legislators write in the letter, obtained by McClatchy. “TPS holders from Honduras and El Salvador have become valued and important members of our communities. They have started families, opened businesses, and contributed to this country in countless ways. They are part of the fabric of America.”
The request to extend Temporary Protected Status for immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador is just one of many Trump’s team will be studying. A decision on TPS renewal for people from Sudan and South Sudan is due this week, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has called on the administration to extend TPS to Venezuelans fleeing that country’s descent into authoritarian chaos. Renewal for nearly 60,000 Haitians also looms.
TPS is a federal immigration program that grants people temporary legal status in the U.S. due to conditions such as natural disaster or civil war that make returning to their home country perilous. It has traditionally had bipartisan support in the White House and Congress.
The program is set to expire for Honduras on Jan. 5 and for El Salvador on March 9. DHS announces 60 days ahead of those dates whether the designation will be extended, and for how long.
The letter was drafted by Rep. James McGovern, R-Ma.; Rep. Randy Hultgren, D-Ill.; Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif.; and Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. It currently has nearly 100 signatories and organizers expect to top that number before the sign-on period closes Sept. 7. The letter will then be sent to Homeland Security.
Honduras first received TPS in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch destroyed 1.9 million homes. El Salvador gained the protections in 2001 after two earthquakes shook the country, causing mudslides that displaced entire communities. TPS recipients must have been present in the country before the date of the last designation and are required to continually reside in the U.S.
The program does not provide a path to permanent residence or citizenship.
The presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have publicly called on the U.S. to renew TPS designations for their citizens. Last week, El Salvador sent an official petition to the Trump administration requesting a continuation of TPS.
“None of the countries are prepared to receive these individuals who are deeply woven into their communities and who are making valuable contributions to our nation and their homeland,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., one of the letter’s signatories.
The letter warns of the disruption sending people back to Central America would cause.
“The potential return of hundreds of thousands of former TPS holders to Honduras and El Salvador would likely bring destabilizing consequences throughout the region,” it says.
Other supporters of the program say returning people to Central America would be counter to U.S. interests: Sending migrants back to countries where employment opportunities are scarce only strengthens the likelihood people will turn back around and try to illegally re-enter the U.S. It also cuts off remittances, which last year in El Salvador reached the highest level in its history and amounted to $4.58 billion – 17.1 percent of the country’s GDP.
Suspending TPS could also cause migrants, who are here legally under the program, to go underground and remain in the country illegally even after the designation is revoked.
But while conditions on the ground in El Salvador and Honduras remain unfavorable for return due to high murder rates, gang activity, economic instability and food insecurity, opponents of the program argue that natural disasters that took place nearly 20 years ago are not reason enough to keep 261,000 people in the U.S.
While DHS said no decision for El Salvador and Honduras has been made yet, the Trump administration has shown resistance to continuing the protections. Former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, who is now Trump’s chief of staff, extended Haiti’s TPS by only six months in May instead of the typical 18 months. The shortened period could signal the administration may be readying itself to cut back the program.
More clues will come this week: The designations for people from Sudan and South Sudan, which expire Nov. 2, must be renewed 60 days ahead of that date. DHS has declined to confirm whether it intends to renew the program for people from those countries.