The Department of Homeland Security on Monday partially extended special protections for migrants from Sudan and South Sudan, the latest signal from the Trump administration on the future of Temporary Protected Status to citizens of El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras who anxiously await upcoming decisions on their own fate under the program.
TPS for people from Sudan has been extended for a year, but will be terminated as of Nov. 2, 2018 because DHS “determined that conditions in Sudan no longer support its designation for Temporary Protected Status.” People will be given a year before they have to leave the country to “allow for an orderly transition.” The designation for South Sudan was extended for 18 months, until May 2, 2019.
Only about 500 people from Sudan and South Sudan benefit from the temporary designation, while the number of recipients from other countries is far greater: There are about 60,000 Hondurans, 200,000 Salvadorans and 50,000 Haitians in the United States under TPS, which permits people to live and work in the country legally because of dangerous conditions such as natural disaster or civil war in their home countries.
Renewal announcements for those three countries are all due this fall.
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Melanie Nezer of HIAS, a refugee organization, said the extension of South Sudan is promising for the future of TPS.
“South Sudan is facing an emergency crisis right now that’s still unfolding. I would hope that that would be a signal that the administration is taking into account the hardship that people will face if they return to these difficult situations — and also the impact on the receiving countries — which could be a good sign for Haiti and Central America, but we just don’t know,” Nezer said.
“It’s a sign that there’s some in the administration who really are looking at this in a sensible and humane way, and we hope that continues.”
Because they are legal residents, TPS beneficiaries work, pay taxes and own homes and businesses. Many also had children here, who are U.S. citizens.
South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan in 2011, has been a TPS designee nearly its entire existence. Sudan has been on the list since 1997. South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 when disagreement broke out between the country’s president and vice president and forces loyal to each.
The violence, as well as famine conditions earlier this year, have internally displaced millions of people and driven millions more into neighboring countries as refugees. Armed conflict remains a problem along the disputed border between the two countries.
The Trump administration is also conducting a separate review of U.S. policy towards Sudan, and is due to decide in October whether it will renew sanctions that have been in place since 1997.
Extension for South Sudan, which is in the midst of armed conflict, certainly does not ensure the program will be extended for El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti. Allowing the nearly 300,000 TPS designees from those countries to remain in the U.S. may be too much to swallow for a Trump administration that has pursued a widespread crackdown on illegal immigration, particularly from Latin America, and has supported a reduction in legal immigration. Two weeks ago, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA program, was being phased out over the next six months.
Former DHS Secretary John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, set off alarm bells for TPS recipients earlier this year when he issued a renewal for Haitians for only six months. The shorter time frame as well as the language Kelly used in the announcement seemed to suggest the administration was interested in reducing the number of people allowed to remain in the U.S. under the program.
“This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States,” Kelly said in May.
Proponents of TPS for people from Central America and Haiti argue that ending the designation for those countries is counterproductive, because instability and poor economic opportunity at home could lead former TPS recipients to turn around and try to reenter the U.S. illegally. It could also drive recipients underground, remaining in the U.S. despite the expiration of their legal status.
Kelly, who is now Trump’s chief of staff, highlighted improving conditions on the ground in Haiti, which was originally granted TPS following the 2010 earthquake. The designation was renewed for Haitians following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which displaced more than 1.5 million people. It now expires Jan. 22.
Honduras and El Salvador also received TPS following natural disasters: Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras in 1998 and people were granted protections the following year. Earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001 qualified its citizens for the program. To be eligible, recipients had to have been in the U.S. prior to the last designation date and must continually reside in the U.S.
Honduras’ designation expires Jan. 5 and El Salvador’s on March 9. DHS is required to give 60-day notice ahead of those dates indicating whether it will be renewed, and for how long. TPS is not a path to permanent citizenship.
Opponents of renewing TPS for those three countries argue that while conditions on the ground may remain difficult, the program is intended as a response to natural disasters, and once the dangers are reduced, the designation is no longer warranted.