President Trump has submitted a 70-point immigration enforcement and security plan to Congress, a proposal that includes the construction of a full border wall, the detention of asylum seekers, and the deployment of thousands of new border agents. Analysts say the package is toughest set of immigration recommendations ever offered by an administration.
But there is dissonance in Trump’s calls for border security as his administration contemplates the end to Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program that has boosted regional stability, deterred unauthorized migration, and promoted security for the better part of three decades.
TPS was created as a stop-gap measure in the 1990s because our immigration system did not have a way to support people who were in the US when something catastrophic — like war, famine or a natural disaster — happened in their home countries and prevented their safe return.
Since then, the program has allowed both Republican and Democratic administrations to extend protection to more than 350,000 individuals from a variety of countries, including many in Central America. Many TPS beneficiaries have lived and worked in the United States — with our full permission — since 1999. They have started businesses, purchased homes, and raised families. Every 18 months, they have re-registered for their protection, complying with comprehensive security screenings and other government guidelines.
But now, the Trump administration is ending these programs, which are administered through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). TPS for Sudan was cancelled in September. DHS has signaled that it will also discontinue programs for Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador as they come up for renewal by the end of the year. The program for Haiti is also vulnerable, set to expire in early 2018.
Ending these programs will disrupt countless lives, and along with them, a tenuous regional stability. The upshot is counterproductive to Trump’s goals of cracking down on undocumented immigration and boosting national security.
TPS beneficiaries must now make impossible choices. Those who return to their home countries will likely be subject to violence and be targets of extortion, a reality that saps $600 million from families in El Salvador and Honduras each year. Those who stay will join the ranks of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in limbo in the United States. And those with families in the US — including some 275,000 US-citizen children — must decide between being separated from them or bringing them into harm’s way.
Cancelling the programs also compromises the remittance money that hardworking TPS holders have sent to support family and friends over the years. Removing this economic lifeline — which represents 17 percent of the GDP in both El Salvador and Honduras — in places where few other economic opportunities exist will push people to either organized crime or to migrate to the United States, further destabilizing the region.
Critics of TPS will rightly counter that even with these programs in place, the situation in Central America is far from stable. The United States has seen tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families arrive at its southern border, fleeing the escalating violence Central America’s Northern Triangle, which includes Honduras and El Salvador.
But adding some 300,000 more vulnerable people to the chaos in these countries will only fan the flames of instability and insecurity, pushing more to take the option of last resort: A dangerous journey to the southern border of the United States.
Trump is correct to demand that Congress take action to remedy the situation. But a practical solution is nowhere to be found in President Trump’s 70-point security-focused proposal.
For nearly 30 years, Congress has failed to take the steps to update the intentionally “stop-gap” TPS program into a permanent immigration program. The situation is remarkably similar to Congress’s 15 years of inaction on the bipartisan DREAM Act, which would benefit another group of immigrants who have lived decades of their lives in the United States.
Congress, in fact, has not moved on any meaningful updates to the immigration system for nearly 50 years. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 represented the last complete overhaul to the system.
A lot has changed since then, but our values as a country have not. We value the rights of people to live free from fear for their safety and the security of their families. We also value practicality and solutions that fix problems instead of worsening them.
Together, we must call on Congress to do what is right and formalize what these individuals are: Permanent residents of the United States.
Oscar Chacón is executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of more than 45 organizations serving immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean that represents more than 100,000 families across the United States.
This commentary was originally published on Medium.