The administration of US President Donald Trump has announced that it plans to end to a migration policy known as Temporary Protected Status for 2,500 Nicaraguans, while 60,000 Hondurans have been given a six-month reprieve before a final decision is due in July 2018.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was legally obligated to rule on ending or extending this status by November 6, according to El Nuevo Diario. In January 2018, it will make the same decision with regard to nearly 200,000 Salvadoran nationals who fall under the program.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a migration program administered by the US government's executive branch. It allows for undocumented migrants from countries that have suffered natural disasters or wars to stay in the United States if deportation could endanger their physical integrity.
Participation in this program is regulated by strict security protocols, including requiring beneficiaries to maintain a clean criminal record as well as requiring them to re-register with immigration authorities every time the program is extended, generally every 18 months.
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TPS was first awarded to Hondurans and Nicaraguans in 1999 in the wake of Hurricane Mitch. Salvadorans later received the protection in 2001, after two earthquakes destroyed swathes of the country.
The program has since been renewed several times, under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, based on the argument that the conditions in those countries had not improved. On the contrary, they had deteriorated due to surging violence. This perspective, however, is fading under the Trump administration.
In April 2017, in line with the anti-immigration political platform that helped Trump secure the US presidency, US immigration authorities recommended ending TPS for more than 50,000 Haitians. The special status had been awarded to citizens of the island nation following a devastating 2010 earthquake. Many analysts saw this decision as foreshadowing similar moves regarding migrants of Central American origin.
So far, DHS has postponed a decision on TPS with regard to Hondurans, and the one concerning Salvadorans is pending. Should the US government decide to lift TPS for nationals of these two countries, nearly 260,000 individuals would either be at risk of being deported back to their violent home countries, or would be living in the United States without authorization.
Such a development could have considerable impacts on security and organized crime throughout the region. InSight Crime looks at five of these potential crime and insecurity ripple effects.
1. Increased human smuggling and human trafficking
Without TPS, current beneficiaries would instantly become undocumented migrants in the United States and could thus become the subject of deportation. Experts consulted by InSight Crime in Washington, DC doubted that mass deportation would ensue. But in light of increased action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Trump administration, former TPS beneficiaries could easily become primary targets for federal customs agents, especially considering the fact that federal authorities have access to a database containing identifying information like home addresses. In addition, 20 percent of TPS beneficiaries had pending deportation orders before being awarded the special status, according to the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). An end to the TPS would mean these orders would once again become active.
Once deported, former TPS beneficiaries would likely land in countries that are unfamiliar to them, and in which the security situation has drastically deteriorated over the past two decades. In El Salvador, the government says that its programs have reintegrated some 3,000 repatriated individuals into the job market in recent years. But the country barely creates any work opportunities, which means that former TPS beneficiaries -- often better skilled and trained than local residents -- would most likely recieve advantageous treatment from employers, possibly displacing the local workforce.
As Salvadoran ambassador to the United States Hugo Martínez noted last week, an end to the TPS could fuel further migration from Central America. The official stated that ending TPS would be a "disruptive decision that would generate a new migration wave," ensuring new business opportunities for criminal groups involved in human trafficking and human smuggling.
2. Boon for US-based document forgery networks
TPS awards beneficiaries work permits that often allow them to earn a better salary than undocumented individuals in the United States. They are also allowed to acquire real estate, generally via mortgage plans. Activists consulted in Washington, DC, including CARECEN Executive Director Abel Núñez, believe that in the event of the lifting of TPS, there is a very real possibility that former beneficiaries may try to acquire forged documents to maintain their relatively well-paid jobs and quality of life.
3. Increased gang activity in both the United States and El Salvador
Despite evidence to the contrary, Donald Trump and US Attorney General Jeff Sessions claim that the MS13 gang and the crimes it commits were imported from Central America. This is factually wrong. Not only were gangs such as the MS13 born on streets of the United States, but the current administration's policies are fueling the gang's growth. Due to pressure from the US Justice Department on local law enforcement to help ICE agents deport undocumented migrants, local cops have lost trust from Central American communities. This lack of trust complicates efforts to combat the MS13 using operational information, as local police chiefs admitted during a US congressional hearing.
Moreover, if TPS were to be lifted for Salvadorans and Hondurans -- two of the nationalities that make up the majority of MS13 members -- many youths would find themselves in stressful economic and household situations, which would only increase gang recruitment opportunities. The same logic applies for youth deported back to violent neighborhoods controlled by gangs in El Salvador and Honduras. Young deportees consistute one of the best gang recruitment pools.
4. Increased extortion
For the past decade, the MS13 has operated a transnational extortion scheme preying on migrants. Essentially, migrants are forced to pay gang members in the United States in order for the gang not to harm their family members still residing in their Central American country of origin. The scheme grew to such an extent that in 2010, El Salvador started an "express complaints" program at its Washington embassy that was designed to allow authorities to funnel reports of such extortion to authorities in El Salvador so local authorities could follow up on them. If TPS were ended, deported former beneficiaries would constitute new targets for gangs involved in this scheme, or they could simply become the target of unrelated extortion activities that are rampant in Central America.
5. General deterioration of security conditions in Honduras and El Salvador
The latest estimates indicate that Honduras will close 2017 with a 20 percent decrease in its homicide rate compared to 2016. The situation is not as positive in El Salvador, where the open conflict between the state and gangs fuels a daily average of around a dozen homicides -- a very high number for such a small country.
The United States and its Central American partner countries have recognized that this violence is one of the main causes for migration. In 2014, following a wave of undocumented migrant minors, the United States joined its regional partners to launch a program called the Alliance for Prosperity, which aims to lower conditions of violence and poverty that spur migration.
An end to TPS would be contrary to this objective, as it would fuel conditions for new cycles of violence and crime. According to CARECEN's Martínez, ending TPS would be "going against the strategy planed by the Alliance for Prosperity" and would have implications for regional stability.