Should TPS be Authorized for Migrants from the Northern Triangle?
For the past two years, our office has seen a rising number of clients from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras). Some recently arrived in the U.S.; others have lived here for many years, but are now in danger of removal to their home country. These migrants are terrified of returning to the Northern Triangle.
Why Do Migrants Fear Returning to the Northern Triangle?
All three countries in the Northern Triangle are among the most violent in the world. For example, in 2012, El Salvador had a rate of 41 homicides per 100,000 people; Guatemala had a rate of 40 per 100,000; and Honduras had a staggering 90 homicides per 100,000 people. By contrast, the 2012 rate in the United States was 5 homicides per 100,000 people, and Canada was 2 per 100,000. Violence against women is endemic in the Northern Triangle, ranging from sexual abuse and harassment to rape and murder. All three countries have some of the highest rates of femicide in the world. Civil society essentially does not exist, broken by the direct assaults on citizens by their own governments, including mass rapes and mass murder in the recent past.
In addition, during the last 10 years the Northern Triangle has endured natural disasters of almost Biblical proportions, including volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, drought and mudslides. These disasters killed many hundreds of people, injured thousands, and created economic disruption.
The Current Situation
Some migrants from the Northern Triangle have a path to lawful residency, through family ties, asylum protection, and eligibility for cancellation of removal. Many others, however, do not have a path to lawful residency or any protection from removal to countries deep in crisis. In fact, in the past 5 years, the United States has deported almost half a million people to the Northern Triangle, including more than 5,000 minors. Considering the current conditions in the Northern Triangle, deportations to those countries are unjust and inhumane.
The United States Can Provide Protection to Migrants from the Northern Triangle
One immigration tool that could be used to protect such migrants is Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS provides protection from deportation for certain migrants who would face serious threats to their lives or safety in their home country. For example, in November 2014 the U.S. granted TPS to nationals of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia due to the outbreak of Ebola. The U.S. also granted TPS to Haitian nationals after the 2010 earthquake, and to Syrian nationals, due to the current civil war.
What is Temporary Protected Status?
TPS was created by the Immigration Act of 1990. Under this provision of the Act, the Secretary of Homeland Security grants certain individuals who are (1) citizens of a designated country and (2) currently reside in the U.S. permission to remain in the U.S. and work authorization. The Secretary can designate a country if:
• there is an ongoing armed conflict in the country, such that returning citizens would face a “serious threat to their personal safety;”
• there is an environmental disaster in the home country (a) which has caused substantial disruption of living conditions, (b) which has impeded the home country’s ability to adequately handle returning citizens, and (c) the home country has officially requested such designation; or
• there are “extraordinary and temporary conditions” in the home country that would prevent its citizens from “returning to the state in safety” unless the Secretary determines that allowing such nationals to remain in the U.S. is “contrary to the national interest of the United States.”
Countries are designated for specific periods of time, up to 18 months; the Secretary can extend the designation, however, if the situation in the home country is unchanged.
In the Immigration Act of 1990, Congress specifically granted TPS to Salvadorans, to protect them from deportation to a country where the U.S.-backed government was systematically killing its own citizens.
In order to qualify for TPS, citizens of designated countries must (1) be physically present in the U.S. the day that the country is designated; (2) have continuously resided in the U.S. since a certain date, as determined by the Secretary; (3) register for TPS during the specified registration period; and (4) be admissible to the U.S.
Currently, citizens of El Salvador and Honduras can apply for TPS, but only if they have been continuously resident in the U.S. for more than a decade: Salvadorans must have been continuously resident since February 13, 2001, Hondurans since December 30, 1998. The current TPS designations for El Salvador and Honduras, therefore, do not offer protection to individuals who have fled those countries due to recent violence and natural disasters. Guatemala has never been designated for TPS, although its government has requested such designation on several occasions after natural disasters.
The current situation in the Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras) clearly meets the threshold for authorization of TPS. No one tracks the outcome of individuals deported to the Northern Triangle. A recent report, however, found that more than 80 individuals deported by the U.S. were murdered in just the past two years.
It is cruel to deport men, women and children to countries that have extraordinary rates of violence and whose governments are unable to adequately handle their return. Therefore, the United States should designate Guatemala and re-designate El Salvador and Honduras for Temporary Protected Status.
In the interim, our firm will continue to diligently work with clients from the Northern Triangle to assist them in protecting their families from removal to these deeply troubled countries.