By Sean Franklin
President Trump must realize that his inconsistencies with managing Temporary Protected Status program must change. (Courtesy of Flickr)
Earlier this week, President Trump decided to drastically curtail the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. Under this program, migrants from parts of the world in crisis could seek residency in the United States, renewable every 18 months. Program beneficiaries came from places far-and-wide, but the vast majority are from El Salvador, having fled the 2001 earthquakes and the political instability that followed.
About 200,000 Salvadorians are living in the United States under this program, and now every single one will have to leave or face deportation. The administration’s official stance is that the situation in El Salvador has improved to the point where TPS is no longer necessary. However, any observer of the crisis in El Salvador could tell you that this is not the case. The economy is still bad. Corruption is rampant. The homicide rate is the highest in the world for a country not at war. It is barely equipped to handle the demands of its own population, let alone absorb 200,000 migrants.
Yet Trump has decided to give them the boot anyway. It is easy to see why – the administration has taken a hard line on immigration from the beginning. Trump’s feelings on the matter were brought into even sharper relief this week with his “sh*thole countries” remarks. However, contrary to what Trump might believe, these people do not represent an existential threat to the stability of the United States. He can bluster about immigrant crime as much as he wants, but data consistently shows that immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than native-born citizens.
This decision, ergo, is needlessly cruel to these people. They have built lives for themselves in America – they have homes, jobs and families. For the administration to cynically toy with their lives in this way is despicable. They will have to uproot their entire lives and return to a disaster-ravaged country overrun with violence.
That’s to say nothing of the 191,000 children of Salvadorian TPS holders currently living in the country, who must either move with their families to a country they have never known or enter the foster-care system.
This decision is not only cruel and unnecessary, but it is also monumentally stupid. In the cities where TPS holders live, they are vital parts of the economy. The labor-force participation rate for Salvadorian TPS holders is 88 percent, almost 20 percent higher than the rate for the U.S. population as a whole. A third of these people own homes – last year in Los Angeles alone, they paid between $20 and $30 million in property taxes. Cities with large Salvadorian populations (like Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Houston) will struggle to replace them once they are gone. Huge holes in the job market will open up, and with U.S. unemployment already at historic lows, it is unsure how they will be filled.
It is unlikely that all 200,000 of these people will be deported immediately. The immigration court system is far too backlogged for that. However, these individuals will be forced underground, having lost their ability to work legally – with the additional fear that the government knows their home addresses. This decision may make other undocumented immigrants unlikely to seek legal status. Why give the government your personal information to get legal status when it could be revoked on a whim? The schizophrenic nature of U.S. immigration policy fractures the trust that immigrants have in the government and makes it more likely that they will choose to continue living underground.
The U.S. has a lot to gain from giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. They’d pay taxes, for one, and they would be better protected from exploitation by their employers. They could contribute more to the economy if they had the ability to work legally. Yes these individuals won’t seek legal status if they don’t trust the government. This week, the Trump administration showed them that it was willing to toy with their lives in order to score political points; that is, not the message we want to be sending. If we want to solve the immigration problem, we need to show immigrants consistency in policy. We need to show them that we will keep up our end of the bargain. Only then can we work towards a solution.
Sean Franklin, FCRH ’21, is an urban studies major from Alexandria, Virginia.