Honduras TPS Cancellation Endangers Thousands of U.S. Residents

May 8, 2018: This post has been updated to reflect the total number of Honduran TPS holders as reported by the Congressional Research Service in January 2018.

The Trump administration announced plans today to terminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Honduras, exposing over 86,000 Honduran nationals living in the United States to possible deportation from a country that has been their home for almost two decades. This decision reveals the depths to which this administration will stoop in its effort to strip immigrants of lawful status – and underlines once again the importance of enacting a permanent legislative solution for TPS holders.

Honduras was first designated for TPS in 1999, due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch. Since that time, Honduran TPS holders have started homes, businesses, and families in the United States, contributing to our shared communities over nearly twenty years. As many as 53,500 U.S. citizens are the children of Honduran TPS holders.

This latest TPS cancellation comes in the midst of a political crisis in Honduras that has left at least 16 people dead and directly threatened the safety of UUSC’s partners, as well as other human rights defenders. The recent violence has swelled the numbers of refugees fleeing the region, many of whom joined the caravan of asylum seekers whom the administration stranded at the San Ysidro border crossing between Mexico and the United States earlier this week.

With political conditions and public safety deteriorating rapidly in Honduras, the administration’s move to deport even more people to the country at this time shows a particular disdain for fundamental human rights.

As with the administration’s prior TPS terminations, this decision was heavily politicized. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen disregarded the substantial evidence of conditions in Honduras that warrant the extension of TPS. DHS has disregarded similar evidence of ongoing violence and instability in its moves to end TPS for other nations, including its own internal staff assessment of country conditions in Haiti.

Other evidence confirms that this decision had little to do with the original purpose of the TPS program – a non-partisan humanitarian initiative that has been renewed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. According to The Washington Post, White House officials intervened in the DHS decision when Honduras first came up for TPS renewal, reportedly trying to pressure Nielsen’s predecessor, acting secretary Elaine Duke, to end the TPS designation in November.

Congress should act now to pass the SECURE Act (S. 2144) and the related Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (S. 2275) in the Senate and the American Promise Act (H.R. 4253) in the House, in order to provide a pathway to permanent residency for long-term TPS holders, as well as former recipients of Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) – a similar protected status. These legislative solutions are increasingly the only plausible check on the administration’s reckless indifference to the human suffering its policies will cause.

Uncertainty in Honduras

Three months have passed since my colleague, Rev. Kathleen McTigue, answered this call from Padre Melo, joining an emergency delegation in a show of solidarity for Hondurans whose peaceful attempts at assembly following the November 2017 elections have been met with violence.

As an advocate for the dignity of all people and a supporter of UUSC’s human rights work in Central America, we wanted to share with you the conditions in Honduras. In short, the crisis triggered by the recent elections continues, and the circumstances around this humanitarian issue are important to understanding the United States’ responsibility.

Honduran security forces, many of which receive U.S. aid, are directly implicated in recent human rights violations stemming from the election. Events prior to the election led many Hondurans to question the integrity of the political process, including the Honduran Supreme Court’s abolition of constitutional term limits in 2015, enabling current president Juan Orlando Hernández to run for reelection.

An international emergency delegation marches in solidarity with Honduran citizens, February 2018.

When the election results were confirmed in December, protests continued around the country. The Honduran government has responded with a far-reaching crackdown on the rights to assembly and expression, declaring a state of emergency and imposing a public curfew. At least 1,351 people have been arrested as a result.

Since the election, Honduran security forces have committed severe human rights violations, including beatings, imprisonment, and the unjustified use of deadly force against protestors. Kathleen recounted her first-hand witnessing of such activities. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), at least 16 people have been killed by security forces, including two women and two children. Sixty people have been injured. OHCHR has documented Honduran military and police units shooting people fleeing and discharging live ammunition on bystanders.

This ongoing crisis is occurring amid existing political instability and human rights abuses in Honduras – problems in which the United States has long played a role. The United States has continued to provide significant military and security funding to the government of Honduras, despite its failure to end persistent human rights abuses, which included the assassination and intimidation of activists, journalists — including UUSC partner, Radio Progreso — indigenous and Afro-Honduran leaders, and human rights defenders.

These abuses have swelled a refugee crisis that has forced thousands of Hondurans to leave their homes, many of whom joined the migrant caravan that was stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border this week. This Sunday, May 6, the U.S. government is scheduled to reach a decision on extending the Temporary Protected Status program for Hondurans, which currently shields nearly 60,000 Honduran U.S. residents from deportation. If the Trump administration ends this program, even more people may be exposed to violence and danger in Honduras.

In the coming weeks, representatives from Radio Progreso will be speaking in Boston and across the United States to draw attention to this grave situation. Also, UUSC will join a Day of Prayer for Honduras in Washington, D.C., on May 18. Afterward, our staff will accompany Radio Progreso’s team as they return to Honduras to help ensure their safety. We’ll be sharing details about these events on Facebook and Twitter and hope you can participate in an event near you.

Thank you for joining us in solidarity with the people of Honduras.

UUSC Heads to the Capitol to Support Central American Immigrants

The fabric of immigration in the United States is frayed and in jeopardy of unraveling. Last month, we saw the latest in a string of appalling steps to trample the right to asylum as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in charge of the nation’s immigration courts, announced he is reviewing whether or not sexual or domestic violence should qualify as persecution, and thus support a claim for asylum in the United States.

This action is yet another example of why Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and a group of our members recently went to the U.S. Capitol to meet with Members of Congress to pressure them to reject the Trump administration’s efforts.

Lobby Day participants post in anticipation of meeting with Senator Kamala Harris’ staff. Senator Harris represents California.

Violence and human rights abuses have forced thousands of Central Americans to flee their homes in recent years– with a marked increase in forced migration since 2014. The Trump administration’s policies leave Central Americans at risk of human rights abuses in their own countries, and when they arrive at the U.S. border in search of safety and security.

The Trump administration has been dismantling the nation’s immigration policy, protections, and practices for more than a year. Limiting the right to request asylum in this country is only one part of a xenophobic campaign to criminalize immigrants and impede immigration overall, as shown by recent actions that have drastic and negative consequence for asylees, refugees, Temporary Protection Status (TPS) holders, and Dreamers, among other communities.

Recent evidence of Trump’s crackdown on immigration

Reports by independent NGOs working on the border show a major spike under this administration in criminal prosecutions of asylum-seekers—merely for crossing the border. Punishing people for seeking refuge is a violation of human rights and is often compounded by unnecessary family separation, prolonged detention, and wrongful deportation. Asylum-seekers, particularly Central Americans who cross at the U.S.-Mexico border, are in the vice grip of harm any way they turn.

Making our voice heard to our elected officials

UUSC and our supporters have a long history of joining immigrant rights coalitions and activists to protest family detention, support the rights of asylum-seekers, and most recently, decry the end of the protections for Dreamers and TPS holders.

 Recently, UUSC members and staff met with Members of Congress and their staff and stressed Congress’s power to enact legislation that can make a difference and the positive impact that constituent visits can have on the political process.

The conversations focused on two asks:  Funding in the FY2019 appropriations bill and protecting TPS holders from deportation via the SECURE Act (S. 2144) in the Senate and the American Promise Act in the House (H.R. 4253).

Lobby Day participants meet with Congressman Bill Keating, who represents Massachusetts’ 10th Congressional District

Congress has tremendous power to do good through appropriations. The UUSC delegations asked Members for assurance that they would use their authority to support immigration, denying funds for uses that are dangerous and counter to human rights, such as additional border enforcement, while ensuring that refugee-related accounts are fulling funded.

UUSC supporters also discussed the strong racial implications underlying administration positions on other programs that overlap the asylum policies, including Trump’s steps to end TPS for immigrants whose countries still are by definition not in conditions acceptable for their return, such as Haitians who came here following the 2010 earthquake.

By canceling TPS for Haitians, Salvadorans, and other foreign nationals who were provided refuge amidst turmoil and natural disasters in their home countries, the Trump administration risks of increasing instability, which is likely to drive migration further. Current legislation in the House and Senate aims to mitigate these effects: The American Promise Act provides TPS holders with a path to permanent status, while the SECURE Act offers qualified TPS holders with permanent legal residency as well as protects longtime holders of Liberian Deferred Enforced Departures (DED) from deportation.

Next steps

The United States has legal and moral obligations to provide safe haven to those fleeing persecution, violence, and war. The Trump administration’s immigration policies are an affront to basic humanitarian principles, and UUSC is committed to protecting and expanding immigrant rights.

In the coming weeks, UUSC will work to further engage individuals around these issues, including launching an action that allows people to sign and send a message to Congress echoing the asks of the Lobby Day. We hope that you will join us and ensure that U.S. government does not forget our historical values and continues to honor its obligations to people fleeing danger.

Syria TPS Decision Provides Needed Relief, But Not Nearly Enough

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) welcomes reports that the Trump administration has decided to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 6,000 Syrians living in the United States, while expressing dismay and consternation that this provision will not cover Syrians arriving after August 1, 2016.

In the lead up to this decision, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had the option of re-designating Syria for TPS, rather than merely renewing. A re-designation would have allowed more recent Syrian arrivals to apply for the status. In previous extensions, TPS for Syrian nationals has been re-designated as well as renewed.

It is difficult to imagine a country that more directly fits the criteria for re-designation than Syria. It is in the midst of an ongoing civil war that has generated the world’s largest contemporary refugee crisis and taken the lives of at least 400,000 people. The new administration’s refusal to take the step of re-designation is impossible to reconcile with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s admission that “the conditions upon which Syria’s designation was based continue to exist.”

The failure to re-designate Syria also provides further disturbing evidence that the administration grounds its TPS decisions in xenophobia and bias, rather than the individual country assessments that Congress intended when it created the TPS program in 1990.

In November, the Trump administration ended TPS for 59,000 Haitian nationals, despite the country’s ongoing natural disaster recovery and recent disease outbreaks. In early January, they likewise announced the end of TPS for nearly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador, in the midst of extreme violence and other major social disruptions in that country. The NAACP has filed a lawsuit charging that the TPS decision for Haiti was racially motivated, citing abundant evidence of the administration’s prejudice against TPS holders.

As with these other TPS decisions, DHS’s refusal to re-designate Syria did not occur in a vacuum. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to institute a “Muslim Ban,” and his rhetoric on both the campaign trail and in office has made Syrian refugees a frequent target of fear-mongering.

Further, last week marked the one-year anniversary of the administration’s failed attempt to implement a discriminatory ban on refugees and travelers from Muslim-majority countries, including Syria. Despite being struck down by multiple courts, the Trump administration continues to impose new versions of the order on Syrian nationals, including new restrictions announced Monday that will make it harder for refugees from Syria and ten other countries to reach safety in the United States.

The administration’s political and biased use of TPS bodes ill for immigrant communities whose futures depend on DHS renewal decisions later this year. These include Nepal in April, Yemen in July, and Somalia in November. All of these countries are sites of ongoing recovery efforts from recent natural disasters or devastating armed conflicts to which the U.S. government has directly contributed.

UUSC urges the administration to honor the humanitarian purpose of the TPS program, rather than wield it as a nativist, political cudgel. In the meantime, Congress should act to pass permanent legislative solutions for long-term TPS holders, who are all members of our shared community.

Trump Administration Continues Anti-Immigrant Assault with Decision to End TPS for Salvadorans

The Trump administration today escalated its assault on immigrant communities, canceling Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran nationals living in the United States legally for over 15 years. Salvadorans are by far the largest community of TPS beneficiaries in the country, and this move throws life into chaos for thousands who call the United States home, as well as for the estimated 192,000 U.S. citizen children of Salvadoran TPS holders.

UUSC calls on Congress to pass permanent protections for all long-term TPS holders, a solution that has already been introduced in the form of the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act, developed in part through the efforts of UUSC’s partner the UndocuBlack Network. Meanwhile, local governments must expand sanctuary policies that hold the line against federal efforts to deport and criminalize our communities until we have won permanent status for all long-term TPS holders.

Today’s TPS decision is appalling, but unsurprising. It continues this administration’s harsh stance against immigrant communities, including those with legal status, as indicated by its recent decision to revoke TPS for Haitians and several other nationalities, as well as its ongoing efforts to tie passage of the Dream Act to border militarization and restrictions to diversity visa and family-based migration.

Terminating the status flies in the face of bipartisan consensus and reveals as starkly as ever this administration’s core objective of slashing documented and undocumented immigration pathways alike, regardless of the human toll. The TPS program for Salvadorans has been renewed by both Republican and Democratic administrations since it was first designated in 2001. Scholars have extensively documented that country conditions in El Salvador continue to warrant the extension of TPS.

UUSC’s work in Central America confirms this finding. In 2016, UUSC conducted extensive research among Salvadoran asylum seekers, alongside our partners at the Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador. The stories they told further substantiate the widely reported facts that organized criminal networks operate with impunity in El Salvador, that state authorities are unable or unwilling to provide protection, and that gangs deliberately prey upon people with known U.S. ties, including recent deportees, meaning that deportation would be tantamount to a death sentence for many.

Meredith Larson, UUSC’s Director of Advocacy, stated, “UUSC continues to work in solidarity with immigrant communities in the United States in the fight for permanent status for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and TPS holders, as well as with our partners in El Salvador, Foundation Cristosal, who are working to build new and lasting solutions to protect victims of organized violence. Working together across our shared continent, we can and will hold the line against attempts to endanger and tear apart our communities.”

UUSC Responds to Six-Month TPS Extension for Haitians: Not Enough

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed its decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals in the United States for a mere six months, instead of the 18-month window normally granted. This announcement is in line with previous threats of Trump administration officials who have recommended terminating the program at the end of the six-month extension—potentially resulting in the deportation of the nearly 58,000 Haitian immigrants currently living with TPS in the United States. UUSC joins with Haitian and Black immigrant leaders and immigration advocacy groups, including our new partner the UndocuBlack Network, to demand an extension of TPS beyond January 2018.

The consequences of ending TPS status for Haitians will be swift and devastating—Haiti is still in the midst of a humanitarian emergency as it works to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeeping forces, and a deadly hurricane last fall. Mass deportations of Haitians would cut off a critical lifeline for the Haitian economy, which currently receives about $1.3 billion a year in remittances from Haitians in the United States. The U.S. economy will also lose an estimated $2.8 billion in GDP over the next decade if this community is deported.

“Numbers cannot do justice, however, to the suffering that would be inflicted on thousands of families by a policy of expanded deportation and separation if TPS expires in six months,” says Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism. “Many Haitians with TPS have U.S. citizen children who were born in this country and know no other home. They are taxpayers, caregivers, parents, and employees whose loss would be felt by all.”

Our partners at the UndocuBlack Network have joined national efforts to renew TPS status for Haitians and, in alliance with the National Immigration Law Center, have helped to spearhead a recent push to uncover the truth about how the Trump administration made its TPS decision. Their recent refusal to renew TPS for three African countries impacted by the 2014 Ebola epidemic; reports that DHS has been requesting information on criminal offenses committed by Haitian TPS holders; and its renewed deportations to war-ravaged Somali, all point to a clear intention to stigmatize and expel immigrant communities of color.

The U.S. obligation to extend TPS for Haitians is more than a matter of humanitarian conscience. Meaningful extension of the TPS program offers a chance for the United States to do the right thing in a part of the world where, for too long, it has been complicit in generating the social problems that created a need for TPS in the first place. UUSC’s Haitian partners at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), for instance, are working with communities directly impacted by U.S. trade policies and aid dumping, which in many places have devastated the local food economy, fueling the poverty and urban overcrowding that made the 2010 Haitian earthquake so deadly. MPP works to establish sustainable agriculture and recover food sovereignty so that Haitians can build a better future.

UUSC will continue to work with our partners to advance the human rights of Haitians at home and abroad, to call for a further extension of TPS, and to press for permanent legislative solutions that will allow all immigrant communities to live in safety and dignity.