Over the past several months, the Trump administration has taken steps to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan. TPS is a temporary legal status granted to nationals of countries experiencing an ongoing armed conflict, environmental disaster, or other extraordinary circumstances. Haiti was granted TPS designation after the 2010 earthquake that devastated the country, Nicaragua was granted TPS designation following a hurricane in 1998, and Sudan was granted TPS in 2013 in response to ongoing internal armed conflict. The administration believes that conditions in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan have improved sufficiently to warrant the return of their nationals currently residing in the United States under TPS. But rushing to terminate TPS designation before either country is truly capable of accepting the return of thousands of its nationals could have grave humanitarian consequences, even if unintended.
In May, then-Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) John Kelly issued a six-month extension of TPS for Haitians beyond the program’s initial July 22 expiration date. At the same time, the agency signaled that Haitian TPS recipients should use the six-month extension to begin making the necessary arrangements to return to Haiti because another renewal was unlikely. Then, on Sept. 18, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that TPS for Sudan would be terminated in November 2018. Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke determined that conditions in Sudan no longer support TPS designation, and extended benefits for Sudanese recipients only to allow for orderly preparation to depart the U.S. On November 6, Acting Secretary Duke announced that TPS designation for Nicaragua would be terminated in January 2019, giving Nicaraguan beneficiaries 12 months to prepare for departure. In addition to the humanitarian concerns raised by the expiration of protection, research suggests there are significant economic and fiscal consequences of ending TPS for this population.
Currently, nationals from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who are already in the United States are eligible to file for TPS. Those who have felonies or multiple misdemeanor convictions, fail to maintain continuous residency in the United States, fail to meet registration deadlines, or are otherwise inadmissible to the United States are not eligible for the program.
TPS recipients make significant economic contributions to the U.S. economy. An April 2017 report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center analyzed the economic contributions of Salvadoran, Haitian, and Honduran TPS recipients by looking at the effects of ending TPS for these countries. Deporting the 300,000 TPS recipients in question would cost U.S. taxpayers $3.1 billion. Because TPS recipients are eligible to work and therefore pay taxes, the Social Security and Medicare systems stand to lose $6.9 billion in net contributions over the next decade if they are deported. U.S. businesses would be liable for $967 million in turnover costs associated with replacing TPS workers. Over the next decade, the U.S. gross domestic product would be reduced by $45.2 billion.
In addition to the economic and fiscal consequences associated with ending TPS, there are an abundance of demographic reasons to preserve the program. In July, the Center for Migration Studies published a detailed statistical profile of Salvadoran, Haitian, and Honduran TPS recipients. Their findings indicate a wide range of factors that suggest many TPS recipients have successfully developed a life in the United States and are invested as members of American society.
TPS recipients have a very high rate of labor force participation, between 81 and 88 percent, which is much higher than the rate for the native-born population (63 percent) or the foreign-born population in general (66 percent). Unemployment rates for Salvadoran and Honduran TPS recipients are low, around 4 to 5 percent. The Haitian rate is higher, around 10 percent, although it is worth noting that Haitians represent less than a fifth of TPS recipients from these three countries.
On average, the median annual TPS household income is $45,000, and around 80 percent of households are at or above the poverty line. Around 30 percent of TPS recipient households have a mortgage, which along with the employment and wage data, suggests that these immigrants are doing well for themselves in the United States and have developed a stable life in this country. This is especially true for the Salvadoran and Honduran populations; over half have lived here for at least 20 years.
Over a fifth of Salvadoran, Haitian, and Honduran TPS recipients arrived when they were younger than 16, and 273,000 citizen children have been born to TPS recipients. Between 6 and 10 percent of TPS recipients are married to a citizen. Eighty-seven percent of TPS recipients speak some English, and over half speak English well, very well, or exclusively. As Matthew La Corte of the Niskanen Center has previously written, immigrants generally assimilate well to American society, and TPS recipients are no exception. Although TPS does not lead to legal permanent residency, recipients are permitted to apply for and adjust to other immigration statuses.
The evidence strongly suggests that TPS recipients make valuable contributions to the United States and the communities in which they reside. When it’s unclear that conditions in the home countries of TPS recipients are in fact safe enough to warrant termination of the program, caution must be exercised to ensure that the program’s humanitarian mission is maintained. Reneging on a promise of safety and security to vulnerable people as a means to curtail immigration would prove irresponsible and needlessly cruel.