The Trump administration announced Monday it was ending a humanitarian program that allowed nearly 200,000 Salvadorans who fled catastrophic conditions in their home country to remain in the country legally.
The program, Temporary Protected Status, was first opened up to Salvadorans—the largest group to benefit from the program—in 2001 after two earthquakes devastated the country and killed more than 1,000 people. The program was repeatedly extended through the Bush and Obama administrations as violence, fueled by gangs, made returning to the country alarmingly dangerous.
The danger remains, but the Trump administration has argued that the program was never intended to last as long as it has. The administration has already rescinded the protections for the 59,000 Haitians who arrived after the 2010 earthquake and a couple thousand Nicaraguans. According to the New York Times, officials in the administration have said that the original reason for the protection—and no subsequent criteria—should be factored into the decision to extend or revoke the protections. According to its statement, the Department of Homeland Security has concluded that “the substantial disruption of living conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist.”
Violence, poverty, and joblessness remain extreme in El Salvador, which has the world’s second-highest murder rate, and many who remain in the country rely on remittances from abroad. The country’s government urged the administration to extend the program, pointing to the country’s drought in addition to its poverty and gang violence.
According to the Washington Post, some on Capitol Hill are speculating that the the program could be used—and saved—in negotiations over a potential congressional immigration deal. According to the Post, Democrats and Republicans have privately considered reducing the diversity visa lottery program, which came under attack in November after one of its beneficiaries killed eight people in a vehicular attack in New York, in exchange for extending TPS. In that case, the Salvadorans, Haitians, and Nicaraguans might be able to stay in the country.
Salvadorans have until September 2019 to find a way to legally stay in the U.S. before they are no longer allowed to stay in the country, according to the statement. If Congress does not step in to create a more permanent protection, many will have to decide whether to remain in the U.S. illegally, break up their families, or risk desperate poverty in one of the world’s most dangerous countries.