Nearly 500,000 U.S. residents are here under "temporary protected status," or TPS. The Immigration Act of 1990 created TPS to allow the foreign-born citizens of war-torn or economically unstable nations to remain in the U.S. legally, even if they arrived or resided unlawfully. TPS covers U.S. residents from Sudan, Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and other nations, all of whom arrived here 20+ years ago either without documents or with a short-term visa.
The benefits of TPS applied to recipients and to the U.S. as a whole. For TPS residents, they weren't forced to return to a country in catastrophic or dangerous circumstances. For the U.S., they were able to bring hundreds of thousands of immigrants 'out of the shadows' into the economy at large, creating a larger tax base while allowing TPS recipients a chance to make a living.
TPS recipients are legally allowed to live and work—and so, the vast majority of them did. Many started businesses, built careers, got married, bought houses, and had children. Virtually all of them put down roots, and for a time, that was fine. Every presidential administration from 1990 to 2016 renewed TPS, allowing recipients to reapply for protected status every 18 months.
However, that all changed with the Trump administration.
The Rollback of TPS Protections
In 2017, less than a year after the Trump administration began, more than 90% of TPS recipients were facing the prospect of deportation. Tens of thousands of them had U.S.-born children. Career officials at the State Department and USCIS reported that the circumstances that necessitated TPS continue to exist, meaning (under federal law), the U.S. most continue the TPS program. At least one private note from the acting secretary of homeland security admitted that ending TPS for Central American countries would result in increased illegal immigration.
The administration continued regardless. In a lawsuit filed by California law firms and the ACLU to block the end of TPS for Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Sudan, court documents revealed that White House policy advisors were trying to end TPS for any country that had been on the list for more than three years, regardless of current conditions. Lawyers argued that the unilateral end of TPS violated the Administrative Procedure Act as well as the equal protection clause in the Constitution.
Families are currently in limbo, scrambling to prepare for the worst possible outcome. A report from The Nation mentioned at least one El Salvadoran citizen who would be considering a move to Canada or Spain. Her daughter, a U.S.-born citizen preparing for college, would have to take care of their youngest son alone.
Other TPS recipients are using their small window of time to build a grassroots movement to build support for their cause. The hope is that Congress will finally address what to do permanently about the half-million TPS holders and their hundreds of thousands of U.S.-born children.