Another Flaw in the System: The Failures of the Temporary Protected Status Program

I sat on my couch one night watching the nightly news when I heard the news that President Trump had begun rescinding part of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program enforced by the Department of Homeland Security. The news appalled me instantly, my mind thinking about my Honduran neighbors across the street from me who were protected by the program. I was worried for them. I decided to cross the street and speak with the father in the family, a close family friend. What I walked into was the look of tearful parents worried about abandoning their children—directing tearful words of anger towards Trump in particular.

Temporary Protection Status is a program run by the State Department that protects immigrants coming from certain countries in deep humanitarian problems to be protected from deportation by the federal authorities. Congress passed the measure as a portion of the Immigration Act of 1990, which allows the Attorney General to create the protection status for a certain group. Protected under the Temporary Protected Status program includes or included Honduran and Nicaraguan immigrants for Hurricane Mitch of 1998, Haitians for the 2010 earthquake, Syrians for the Syrian Civil War, and Yemenis for the Yemeni Civil War.

Ever since I heard of the program a few years ago, I’ve been genuinely curious as to why the program exists in the first place apart from serving as a ‘humanitarian’ effort on the part of the United States. The program itself presents a major flaw in its implementation: that the protection is merely ‘temporary’ at the discretion of the Attorney General. The general hope for the program would be that the immigrants would return to their home countries once the humanitarian disaster relief effort was completed. The fact is, however, most of these countries are still facing some of the socio economic repercussions that these disasters placed on them. Haiti is still recovering 7 years after the 2010 earthquake with only 2% growth in the economy per year. Honduras and Nicaragua are still enamoured with crime increases ever since a massive influx of immigrants came to the United States in 1998, similar to the issue currently at hand in Yemen.

The program exposes another flaw in the deeply troubled system that is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigrant Services and the process to citizenship and to residency. In TPS, most applicants only have one shot when submitting the required I-821 form to the DHS or else to face the elongated appeal process in Immigration Courts— already burdened with an influx of deportation cases. Even if an applicant receives TPS, they will still have to apply in the full application process that takes, on average, 2-3 years, while TPS supposedly covers only 6-18 months of stay in the United States. The program helps next-to nothing if the person wants to stay in the United States rather than return to their country of origin, the most popular opinion among TPS immigrants that I’ve spoken with.

What happens if the program is fully rescinded by the DHS? One of the most grave questions for TPS immigrants comes up: whether to risk staying in the United States illegally or to return ‘home’ to a country plagued with issues. Risking to stay in the United States is a difficult task, since DHS has updated records on TPS immigrants— including phone numbers, addresses, and a variety of other personal information. Returning home poses an even greater risk at times, finding themselves back in a country struggling still to recover.

I would argue that the TPS system needs major corrections in order to better accommodate for these people in the first place. Allowing for an easier pipeline to citizenship would likely benefit people protected under the program, whether it be in diminishing the wait-times associated with the Immigration Courts for an applicant or streamlining the process at least to Permanent Residency. Or simply yet, extend the 18 month period protected under TPS to 36 months without the need of a presidential waiver, giving these people more time to try to figure out their futures. DHS needs to understand that 18 months isn’t enough time to comprehend the future, so why not allow these immigrants another chance?

Recently, my neighbor received word from his immigrant lawyer to prepare himself and his family for the possibility that DHS would come around and pick them up for good. When I spoke to him last week, he wasn’t sure what he would do next, whether to risk it and stay or to simply leave. It’s hard for him, this being his 17th year in the United States and now married with two children. I wouldn’t know what to do.