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In an exclusive article for Vox, Nicole Narea breaks that senior officials across government bureaus and agencies, from the State Department to consular offices, recommended that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) be extended or at least delayed. Additionally, it is now apparent political motivations were put ahead of the lives of TPS holders and their families, as well as U.S national security and foreign policy interests.
Narea’s piece is excerpted below and available in full here:
Senior State Department officials and career diplomats repeatedly warned the Trump administration that taking away legal protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti would put national security, foreign relations, and the immigrants’ American-born children at risk, according to internal State Department documents.
But Trump did it anyway — and concerns about the 2020 election appear to have helped determine the timeline for requiring immigrants to leave, according to the documents, which will be released in a report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.
About 400,000 citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti have been able to stay in the US through Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a protection allowing them to legally live and work in the US typically offered to citizens of countries suffering from natural disasters or armed conflict.
President Donald Trump tried to end TPS for El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, among others, starting in November 2017. He argued that conditions in those countries have improved enough that their citizens can now safely return.
… The almost 80 pages of internal State Department memos and diplomatic cables — obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as part of an investigation commissioned by Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee — show that senior agency officials advised former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that revoking TPS would destabilize the three countries and recommending that, if he must end the program, it should be wound down over three years.
But a State Department policy memo from 2017 also noted that this would put the end of the program “directly in the middle of the 2020 election cycle.” Tillerson scribbled on the memo that the wind-down period should instead be 18 months — a decision that ran counter to every recommendation by career diplomats in the State Department.
… Career State Department officials argue that ending the protections, which would force the immigrants to leave or go underground, would hurt efforts to combat international criminal gangs and drug trafficking. It would worsen the poverty, political volatility, and violence causing unauthorized immigration to the US in the first place.
And it could directly endanger hundreds of thousands of American citizens: The documents include an estimation that ending the protections would mean 273,000 US citizen children would either be separated from their immigrant parents, or have to return to El Salvador and Honduras, where, the experts warn, they could be recruited by criminal gangs such as MS-13.
… Officials advised Tillerson to wind the protections down slowly. He ignored them.
Given the “tremendous difficulties managing the sudden return of tens of thousands of TPS beneficiaries and dependents” the three countries would face, senior officials urged Tillerson to “strongly endorse” a 36-month wind-down period for the program.
… The documents don’t explicitly say the decision was made for political reasons. But they do note that ending temporary protections for immigrants from the three countries could incite political backlash.
… The report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drawing on the documents, argues the Trump administration put concerns over reelection above the well-being of immigrants and their families.
“Trump administration political appointees thus injected electoral considerations not contemplated under the TPS statute, raising the likely prospect that the Trump administration elevated electoral concerns over US national security and the personal safety of nearly 400,000 TPS recipients and an estimated 273,000 American children,” Menendez writes in the report.
Ending the protections would prompt what the report calls “a new family separation crisis — one that has a direct impact on American families,” it argues. The 273,000 US citizen children who could be affected are far more numerous than the almost 5,500 the Trump administration has admitted to separating as a result of its “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all unauthorized border crossers.
“This prevalence of de facto forced family separation would have a lasting and traumatizing impact on the lives of the US citizen children of TPS recipients and would irreparably harm American families,” the report says.
… Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress think tank, said that the new evidence in the report suggesting the Trump administration was swayed by political motivations over the dangers to American children in deciding to end TPS could be helpful to legal challenges.
“This strongly supports the argument that the decision to terminate for these three countries at least was arbitrary and capricious,” he said.