United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen on Monday reversed a policy that has allowed over 200,000 Salvadorans to live and work in the United States since 2001. The program, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), provides legal status for undocumented immigrants seeking refuge from countries riven by natural disaster, civil war or other conflict, according to the New York Times. TPS was granted for Salvadorans after two major earthquakes struck their country in early 2001, leading many to seek refuge in the U.S.
Following the designation, the Bush and Obama administrations continued to extend the protected status due to political, economic and social strife in a gang-ravaged El Salvador, which had the highest murder rate in Central America last year, reported the Washington Post. The Trump Administration, however, rescinded the protection on the basis that El Salvador had recovered from the 2001 earthquakes, the original reason for the program’s institution, reported the Washington Post.
“This is a bad decision,” Refugees International president Eric Schwartz told The Guardian. “Given conditions in El Salvador, the return of hundreds of thousands of law-abiding residents of the United States who have been here for nearly two decades is just wrong. It’s wrong ethically and in terms of US interests in stability in El Salvador.”
The decision could cause drastic harm to the Salvadoran economy. Political scientist Manuel Orozco told NPR that 80 to 85 percent of Salvadorans in the U.S. send home remittances, which totals over $4.5 billion per year, the Washington Post reports, and 17 percent of El Salvador’s GDP, according to World Bank.
The U.S. could also suffer from the lost legal statuses of Salvadorans, many of whom work for companies that are assisting in the clean-up and reconstruction efforts of hurricane-ravaged areas, including Houston.
“During hurricane recovery, I especially need those men,” Stan Marek, a construction company executive, told the New York Times. “If they lose their status, I have to terminate them.”
If the decision stands, Salvadorans who were previously protected must leave the U.S. by Sept. 9, 2019, or risk staying illegally. Undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children fear their families could be torn apart.
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