What is Temporary Protected Status?

Hundreds of people gathered in St. Paul, Minnesota on January 20, 2018, to protest the Trump Administration's immigration policies. Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Creative Commons

Here's what you should know about TPS.

In 1990, Congress honored the American legacy of giving shelter to people fleeing dangerous situations by creating the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. TPS provides critical protection to people who come to the US from countries plagued with insecurity, making their return unsafe. Given the rapid growth of armed conflict and increase of natural disasters devastating communities around the world, the lifesaving protection of TPS is more important than ever.

Last year the administration began reviewing countries with TPS designations. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is tasked with assessing if conditions in TPS designated countries are safe, if people here in the US with TPS status still need protection from harm in their countries of birth. As of February 2018, DHS ended protections for El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua, and Haiti. South Sudan and Syria have received extensions for 18 months. In the next two weeks, the Trump Administration will decide whether to terminate TPS for nearly 9,000 Nepali citizens and 57,000 Honduran citizens in the United States, which Oxfam opposes due to conditions which remain unfit for their return.

Currently, more than 436,000 of our neighbors are in the US through TPS. Most of them have been here for many years, the vast majority are employed, and many have children who are US citizens. The TPS eligibility decisions are not just technical determinations; they are rooted in morality and human rights.

As deliberations continue, here are three things you should know:

1. The administration has terminated nearly every TPS country designation under review, despite clear indicators that conditions are unsafe for returnees.

The Department of Homeland Security has terminated TPS status for US residents from Haiti, Sudan, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. This trend suggests that TPS holders from other countries yet to be reviewed may suffer the same life-threatening fate of being forced to live in dangerous areas.

TPS terminations leave thousands scrambling to figure out what their futures hold. Many fear returning to their country of origin because of ongoing humanitarian dangers such as food insecurity (Haiti, Sudan), violence and crime (Sudan, Nicaragua, El Salvador), disease outbreaks (Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan), and poverty (Nicaragua, Sudan, Haiti, El Salvador). In total, approximately 248,000 people will lose their protection. Thousands more will be directly impacted, as TPS holders have extended family members here, including US-born children, partners, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and grandparents.

The two TPS designated countries not terminated outright are South Sudan and Syria. In September 2017 and January 2018, the administration concluded that these countries are too dangerous for TPS holders’ return, thereby allowing current Syrian and South Sudanese TPS holders to remain in the US for 18 months. While extending status for 18 months provides a temporary respite for these TPS holders, the reality is that there is no end in sight to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in those countries.

In the coming months, TPS designations for Nepal, Honduras, Somalia, and Yemen will be assessed. These countries continue to be plagued by conflict, violence, and severe impacts of natural disasters, which would make returning either unviable or extremely dangerous. Given the administration’s conclusion that TPS holders will find thriving livelihoods in Haiti, El Salvador, and Nicaragua despite deplorable conditions, there is cause for concern that TPS will also be prematurely ended for other countries.

2. TPS holders make critical and valuable contributions to the United States.

US residents with TPS have jobs, pay taxes, contribute to social security and Medicare, own thriving businesses, have children, own homes, and are actively engaged in their communities. The beneficiaries of this program have lived in the US for an average of 20 years. TPS holders contribute financially, socially, intellectually, and culturally in ways that help our nation prosper. Their loss would be a loss for us all.

Economically, TPS holders are important players. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) found that holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti generate $4.5 billion in pre-tax income every year. Their contributions to social security and Medicare over a 10-year period is estimated to be more than $6.9 billion. If these individuals leave the US, the US GDP would be reduced by $164 billion over the next decade and deportation costs for taxpayers would increase in excess of $3.1 billion.

3. Sending TPS holders to their countries of origin will put them in danger.

A country receives TPS designation when conditions prevent people from returning home safely, or, in some cases, when the country is unable to absorb the return of large numbers of people. Such conditions include ongoing armed conflict due to war or violence, unsafe living conditions due to natural disasters such as earthquakes or hurricanes, or devastating health epidemics, such as the cholera epidemic in Haiti. In some countries, more than one of these conditions applies.

In extending protection to TPS holders, the US accepts responsibility for ensuring that these residents remain safe. When the program is terminated, TPS holders are put in a precarious situation. By turning our backs on these US residents, we fail to live up to our American values of generosity and compassion. Forcing people to leave a secure home for countries where they are likely to face danger and incredible hardship negates the point of TPS.

The US must continue to honor its promise to TPS holders: to shield them from the humanitarian crises in their birth nation, and honor the many ways in which they contribute to our country.

How can you help? Raise your voice for TPS holders by tweeting #SAVETPS

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