The Trump administration is weighing the decision to allow 260,000 Salvadoran immigrants continued safe harbor in the United States, a protection that has been renewed 11 times since it began in 2001.
Over the last several months, the administration has moved deliberately to phase out protections for immigrants from other countries, including 59,000 from Haiti and 5,300 Nicaraguans. The TPS program is supposed to provide a temporary haven for victims of natural disasters — not permanent permission to stay in the U.S., administration officials have stressed.
But El Salvador presents a particularly difficult decision. Salvadorans are by far the largest group with protected status. They have held it since two earthquakes struck the Central American country in early 2001, killing more than 1,100 people and leaving 1 million others homeless.
The primary issue holding protection renewal in limbo is that of the gang M-13, which has a base in El Salvador and has taken hold in certain areas of the U.S.
Advocates argue that it would be a catastrophe to send long-term residents and their children back to El Salvador, a country struggling with a weak economy and racked by gang violence. El Salvador is one of the violent countries in the world, measured by its murder rate.
[Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen] Nielsen herself, along with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, has spoken in dramatic terms about the threat posed by MS-13, the violent gang with a base in El Salvador.
“These savage criminals are in our communities, and they are a deadly consequence of our unsecured borders and our failed immigration policies,” she said last month.
Homeland Security officials have called upon Congress to legislate a permanent fix for the temporary residents but no bills introduced to date have passed.
Advocates say that they don’t expect any action, however, from a Congress already consumed with negotiations over other immigration issues, including the fate of nearly 700,000 young people at risk of deportation as a result of President Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.