Last Friday, Congressional Democrats sent out a petition calling on the president to grant mass amnesty to over a million illegal aliens from Central America, citing the region’s high crime rates and the dangers faced by potential deportees. Instead of asking the president to use his purported mass deferred action authority, Democrats are asking he grant the illegal aliens so-called Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a similar, albeit statute-based, program created by Congress in 1990. But similar to his previous blanket amnesties, using TPS in this situation would be unprecedented and legally questionable.
As its name implies, TPS was created to ‘temporarily’ stall the deportation of illegal aliens whose home country is ravaged by war or natural disaster. It initially only applied to then-war-torn El Salvador; however, the program’s since grown to include 11 other countries. And although the relief’s supposed to be “temporary,” TPS-grants have been consistently renewed by DHS even when the problems back home have long since subsided.
TPS has an interesting history in the current debate over the president’s powers to unilaterally grant blanket amnesties. Congress actually signed the program into law specifically to restrain the executive, which for years had been doing something similar to TPS but under its own self-created “Extended Voluntary Departure” program. Frustrated that it’s plenary authority over immigration was being usurped, Congress reacted by creating an “exclusive remedy” in the area of nationality-based deportation relief which was intended to tether by statute the executive’s potentially boundless application of amnesty.
We’ll now see if that restraint holds. Under section 244(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the DHS Secretary can exercise grants of TPS on three grounds: situations of ongoing war that poses a serious threat to a potential deportee; situations of natural disaster so disruptive that the foreign state requests it; and under so-called “extraordinary and temporary conditions” with the added caveat that a temporary amnesty not be “contrary to the national interest of the United States.” For the first seven years of the program, all grants were made according to the first ground. Illegal aliens from Rwanda living in the US in 1995, for instance, were granted TPS following that country’s ethnic civil war which killed an estimated one million people. As for natural disaster grounds, Honduras and El Salvador themselves received TPS grants following severe flooding and earthquakes, respectively.
But in each of the dozen grants of TPS since 1990, never has an illegal alien received deportation relief because his or her home country had a high crime-rate. Congressman Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezBiden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear The Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada Democrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire MORE seemed to recognize this fact when he told a rally outside the White House on Friday, “There is no difference between this and a hurricane — none.” In any case, it isn’t clear how much worse Central America has become in recent years, if at all. According to the Congressional Research Service, the latest crime figures actually show murder rates steady or declining in the region.
At the very least, Congress should protest any such grants simply due to the president’s demonstrated bad faith. After all, the ongoing Central America-based Unaccompanied Alien Minors (UAM) crisis was his own creation. Despite the Administration’s assertion that the crisis was a shock to government officials, the correlation between 2012’s mass amnesty of illegal alien minors and the increased level of illegal UAM-immigration that followed is simply too tight to be ignored. In Texas’s ongoing anti-amnesty lawsuit, the state submitted written testimony from Harvard Ph.D. Karl Eschbach, a former demographer with the state and an expert on illegal immigration. As Dr. Eschbach told the court, the president’s amnesty policies “is to incentivize residents of other countries to come to the United States.” This, of course, meshes with what Border Patrol officials heard from UAMs themselves when they said they were incentivized by the promise of receiving “permisos” following their illegal entry into the US.
There’s also the evidence that the government had actually anticipated the DACA-induced crisis. From 2012, when DACA was announced, to 2014 when crisis made national news, UAM-apprehensions had already increased 490 percent, 444 percent, and 610 percent for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, respectively. Even the Congressional Research Service, the Washington Post, and the Soros-funded Migration Policy Institute have made the link between ending the threat of deportation and the rise in illegal immigration.
Further compounding the President’s bad faith was his initial promise to fly the UAMs back home only to then create the so-called In-Country/Central American Minors Refugee/Parole program, which instead flies Central American minors here so they can reunite with their illegal-alien parents. That program was specifically created to keep the UAM-apprehension figures down, instead of actually dealing with the core problem: violent crime in the region. New York in 1990 had homicide rates similar to Guatemala’s. Through cooperation, effort, and carefully considered policy, those rates collapsed. We can help those countries achieve what we’ve done.
In their lobbying push, Democrats will no doubt stick to their “don’t punish the families” narrative; a highly cynical exploitation of the American public’s sentimental values. But this sort of emotional blackmail does have its limits, especially in election years. When President Carter extended his “open-arms and open-heart” policy to Cuban illegal aliens during the Mariel boatlift, over 100,000 hit Florida’s shores causing a huge public backlash and partly costing him, in his own opinion, the 1980 election. Similarly, President Obama is losing control of our borders while lecturing Americans that “We are a better nation than one that deports innocent kids.” But voters might tell his party this election that we’re also a better nation than one that lures them here.
Smith is an investigative associate at the Immigration Reform Law Institute.