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Recent emails released as a result of an ongoing lawsuit between Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and the Trump administration reveal the true processes of terminating TPS for Nicaragua. Dara Lind reports that after a meeting with the White House, DHS officials learned of a new strategy that resulted in shortening the expiration of TPS for Nicaragua from 18 months to 12 months.
If the judge overseeing the lawsuit does not rule favorably for TPS holders, more than 400,000 people, including 5,000 Nicaraguans, could be forced to leave their families here in the U.S. and be sent back to countries in the midst of ongoing conflict, political unrest and natural disasters.
Lind’s article is excerpted below:
At 3:23 pm on November 6, 2017, Elaine Duke — then the acting homeland security secretary — sent an email to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. She was hours away from a midnight deadline on extending or ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 5,000 Nicaraguans who had been in the US since 1999, and she had finally made her decision: She was going to end TPS for Nicaragua and force the beneficiaries to leave the US or risk deportation, but not until July 5, 2019.
“The effective termination date is 18 months from today,” Duke told Kelly. (In reality, it was 18 months from January 2018, when Nicaraguans’ protections were set to expire without a renewal.) “That will allow time for the affected persons and families to find other paths to stay in the United States or return to Nicaragua.” Duke’s chief of staff, Chad Wolf, forwarded the decision to White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert.
Three hours later, Duke sent Kelly another email: She had changed her mind.
“I had a discussion with Tom B this evening and he informed me of a strategy I was not previously aware of,” she wrote. In light of this “new information” from the White House, she’d shortened the grace period for Nicaraguans from 18 months to 12 — forcing them to leave the country or risk deportation by January 5, 2019.
The executive branch has broad authority to grant TPS, and to decide whether or not to extend it for any given country. But that decision is supposed to be based on the conditions in the country in question, and it’s supposed to be made by the homeland security secretary herself.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of TPS holders and their US citizen children (with assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the National Day Laborers Organizing Network), accuses the Trump administration of making the decision to strip TPS from Nicaraguans and others to advance its own immigration agenda — and reverse-engineering its analysis to match the strategy dictated to them by the top.
The Washington Post and other outlets reported on emails published in the lawsuit that show political appointees at DHS editing reports about “country conditions” to better support the recommendation to end TPS protections. But the last-minute change to the timeline for Nicaragua shows not just a change in process but a change in outcome.
Had a White House official not had that “discussion” with acting Secretary Duke, it seems, 5,000 people would now have six more months to prepare their return to Nicaragua (a country that’s since descended into serious civil unrest) or try to make plans to flee elsewhere.
… In the months since that decision was made, the situation in Nicaragua has deteriorated drastically, as civil unrest has killed hundreds. Recent reports indicate that 200 Nicaraguans a day are fleeing the country for neighboring Costa Rica.
One of the pieces of evidence for Nicaragua’s recovery cited in the regulation ending TPS (published in January) was that there was no active State Department travel warning for the country. There is one now. It was published July 7, 2018 — the day after the US evacuated all non-emergency diplomatic personnel.
That’s the country to which, as it stands right now, more than 5,000 people will be expected to return in the next four months or so.
As it stands — unless the administration flip-flops and redesignates Nicaragua for TPS based on the current unrest — the best chance for the 5,000 Nicaraguans is for the judge overseeing this lawsuit to come to the same conclusion that judges have with Trump immigration policies from the first travel ban to the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program: that it’s illegal because of how the decision was made.