A bit of background (read Congressional Research Service brief here for more information): In 1990, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990. One of the provisions of this Act was the TPS, which allowed for nationals whose countries were ravaged by an ongoing arms conflict, an environmental disaster, or extraordinary condition to temporarily be protected under immigration law, and thus immune from deportation. The temporary nature of TPS is not too dissimilar from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. You can read my analysis on DACA here, which I think is relevant given the parallels between the DACA and TPS controversies.
In 2001, there was a nasty earthquake in El Salvador that caused a humanitarian crisis. As a result, the United States took in about 195,000 El Salvadorans under TPS. El Salvador is not the only country for whom the United States provides TPS. As a matter of fact, El Salvador is not the only country for whom Trump revoked TPS. Late last year, he revoked TPS for 50,000 Haitian nationals who were fleeing from the travesty of the 2011 earthquake. What makes Trump's announcement more significant is because the El Salvadorans make up for nearly half of the estimated 325,000 individuals who have been offered TPS. Although individuals with TPS come from 13 countries, 93 percent come from 3 countries: El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti (Warren and Kerwin, 2017). It is also significant because previous Presidents used the option written into the Immigration Act of 1990 that allows for the status to be renewed without limit. Trump reversed that set precedent.
Those who are happy with Trump's decision bring up the "it's about time" argument because the "T" in TPS stands for "temporary." The Trump administration used a more refined version of that argument in its announcement earlier this week by determining if "those originating continue to exist as required by statute." As much as TPS was intended to be short-term relief and shelter, the fact of the matter is that the individuals' residency in the United States has not been short-term. The El Salvadorans have been here since 2001, the Hondurans since 1998, and the Haitians since 2011. These individuals have established their lives here, especially so with the El Salvadorans since they definitionally have been here since 2001.
Upending these individuals' lives would be quite disruptive. As the Center for Migration Studies points out in its 2017 study on TPS, this would mean you're talking about 61,000 mortgages in jeopardy. Not only does this show home ownership, but also implies contributing to the local economy by paying sales and property taxes. It is not just the beneficiaries themselves, but also their children. These children are long-term U.S. citizens, including 273,200 U.S.-born children and 67,800 people who were brought here as children. These children would either be forced to be separated from their families or return to a country that is foreign to them. If they return to said country, it would be nigh impossible for them to integrate them into the society of the respective country. Even though the initial earthquake in El Salvador has passed, catastrophe is still with these countries. Honduras and El Salvador have the two highest murder rates in the world. Additionally, returning to these countries would mean making these individuals more vulnerable to extortion and gang violence. In 2015, nearly 1 in 4 El Salvadorans were victims of crimes, according to the U.S. Department of State. The decision to face these individuals is whether to return to one of the most dangerous places on Earth or remain in the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant. Did it ever occur to Trump that the reason that the TPS continued to be extended is because some countries are just not safe places to live?
And if the humanitarian argument doesn't sway you, then there are the economic arguments to consider:
- The estimated labor force participation rate for TPS beneficiaries ranges from 81 to 88 percent (Warren and Kerwin, 2017), which is a lot higher than the current overall labor force participation of 62.9 percent. Another way of saying this: TPS beneficiaries are hard-working.
- There is the cost of deportation, which the Immigration Legal Resource Center estimates would be $3.1 billion.
- There is the cost of $967 million that employers would incur because of turnover costs.
- The ILRC also estimates that deportation would cost the U.S. $45.9 billion of the GDP over the next decade. In its report on TPS, the Center for American Progress estimates that the GDP loss at $164 billion over the next decade.
- The Dallas Federal Reserve released a report (Orrenius and Zavodny, 2014) showing how that even temporary status to work in the United States improves labor market conditions for those who would otherwise be considered unauthorized immigrants.
- El Salvador also benefits from this. Political scientist Manuel Orozco estimates that TPS beneficiaries send $600 million to El Salvador annually, which is significant since a) that amount is 2 percent of El Salvador's GDP, and b) El Salvador's GDP has only grown at about 2 percent over the past few years.
- Removing these remittances not only eliminates a significant source of tax revenue, but also undermines the national security of El Salvador and Honduras.
By revoking TPS for El Salvadorans, as well as the previous revocations for Haitian TPS beneficiaries, what the Trump administration has done is pave the way to ruin the lives of thousands of people, indirectly further destabilize El Salvador's economy by removing an important source of revenue, and diminish U.S. economic output with mindless immigration policy. And for what? This won't help with the U.S' national security. In spite of allegations of international drug trafficking, the El Salvadoran gangs have mostly been involved in local crime, which would further diminish a national security argument. As I have discussed before (see here, here, and here), immigration is a net gain for the U.S. economy.
Trump thinks that by tackling immigration in the manner he has, he is coming up with permanent solutions for immigration reform. The truth is that he is creating more problems. It's easier for Congress to kick the can down the road or pass it on to the executive branch rather than reform the U.S.' incongruent and nebulous immigration policy, which is why I don't have much faith in Congress stepping in to solve the problem. I would like for Congress to come up with something, such as creating a path to citizenship for these people who have lived in this country for so long. In the meantime, I have to hope and pray that these individuals can find a remedy to their situation on their own within the next 18 months.