“Temporary” means temporary, Trump administration controversially insists

On Monday, the Trump administration announced the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador who, without that status, will be illegal. The termination will take effect in 2019.

The El Salvadorans in question are those who were living illegally in the U.S. when earthquakes struck their country way back in 2001. The idea, as Mark Krikorian reminds us, was to hold off temporarily on sending them home (and give them work permits) until the effects of the natural disasters in El Salvador subsided.

Thus, contrary to claims by various liberal news outlets (e.g., Newsweek and Vox), this is not a refugee-like program for people fleeing natural disasters or civil strife. It is not, as Sen. Kamala Harris ignorantly stated, for “people who rebuilt their lives in the U.S. after fleeing an earthquake…”

The beneficiaries of the TPS, illegal aliens to begin with, chose to ride their luck, hoping either that the temporary program would endure or that, if it ended, they could resume being illegal immigrants and avoid deportation (as most illegals do). They had no right to assume their TPS-protected status would continue forever.

Their protected status did continue for more than 16 years, with a 17th promised to them. Now that it’s coming to an end, they can either leave the U.S. or resume their status as illegal aliens, subject to deportation but not all that likely to be deported. (According to Krikorian, the U.S. deports about 20,000 Salvadorans a year. Even if that number doubles, most of those who lose their status will remain here for years).

The Trump administration made the right call. As its name tells us, Temporary Protected Status is temporary. It covers situations where “extraordinary and temporary conditions” mean that the country from which the immigrants came is unable “to handle adequately [their] return.”

As noted, we are returning approximately 20,000 Salvadorans per year. Thus, it’s hard to argue that El Salvador can’t handle the return of these immigrants. But even if it couldn’t this would not be due to “extraordinary and temporary conditions.” Rather, it would be due to the permanent situation in El Salvador.

The Washington Post’s editors argue that ending TPS will hurt many and help no one. It will hurt many because El Salvadorans — some with children born in the U.S. and some with mortgages and businesses here — will be uprooted and because El Salvador will lose the money many of the immigrants send home. What is to be gained by imposing such hardship, the Post asks.

Note that the same argument applies to a great many illegal immigrants who didn’t have TPS protection and have been in this country for more than a few years. They too may well have children born here, may well have mortgages or a business, and may well be sending money home. The Post’s argument is a recipe for non-enforcement of our immigration laws which is probably what the paper prefers.

I don’t accept the Post’s premise that our laws can be applied as intended and as written only if a cost-benefit analysis so warrants. It’s up to Congress to set immigration rules. If the Post thinks the rules cause more harm than good, it should encourage Congress to change the rules, rather than encouraging the executive to ignore them.

In any case, the Post ignores an obvious benefit to applying TPS as written and intended. The failure to do so undermines efforts to pass immigration reform.

Immigration reform deals follow a familiar pattern: Illegal immigrants get some form of legal status in exchange for statutory language that, if implemented, will discourage or prevent future illegal immigration. Unless those who insist on such statutory language can be confident that the language will be adhered to — rather than ignored on humanitarian grounds and/or ad hoc “cost benefit” analysis — these legislators have no reason to make such deals.

Sen. Tom Cotton made this point during the meeting President Trump held with congressional leaders this week. He said, pointedly (though Democrats declined to take his point) that it’s lack of trust that stands in the way of immigration deals such as the one Trump hopes will be reached on DACA.

The failure for years to apply TPS as written and intended is just the kind of thing that fuels distrust and stands in the way of future legislative fixes and deals. The hue-and-cry that accompanies Trump’s decision finally to apply TPS correctly — especially the Post’s claim that nothing is gained by doing so — should add to the distrust.


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