Mayors ask administration to extend immigration program for El Salvador

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A large coalition of cities and counties is appealing Wednesday for the federal government to extend work permits for nearly 200,000 Salvadoran citizens for 18 months.

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, 19 members of Cities for Action — a coalition of local governments seeking immigration reform — asked for an extension of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for El Salvador.

{mosads}The Central American country’s TPS status is due for renewal on Jan. 8. On that date, Nielsen will have to decide whether to extend or end the program. Ending it would essentially revoke the legal status of 195,000 Salvadoran immigrants.

Salvadoran nationals protected by TPS have been in the country since at least 2001. The program allows for nationals of a foreign country already in the United States — legally or illegally — to work and live in the United States if a natural or man-made disaster makes their country too dangerous to return to.

El Salvador first received its TPS designation after two earthquakes ravaged the Central American country, increasing the difficulty of re-absorbing the tens of thousands of refugees who had left the country during the largely U.S.-funded civil wars of the 1980s.

The State Department is required to send an assessment of conditions on the ground in El Salvador to Homeland Security to aid in Nielsen’s decision.

“I stand shoulder to shoulder with mayors across the country and the 4,000 Salvadoran New Yorkers with TPS to call for an 18-month extension,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of the letter’s signers. “When their country was hit by a natural disaster, these individuals took refuge in our city and have since become deeply embedded in our economy, houses of worship, schools and neighborhoods.”

The 19 signatory cities of the letter — which include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston, the country’s four largest cities — warned of the economic impact of removing Salvadoran TPS holders.

“The Salvadoran TPS recipients we represent have deep roots in our communities. Allowing their TPS status to expire will divide families and harm our cities. Salvadoran TPS recipients have lived in the United States for an average of 21 years and have 192,700 U.S.-born children,” reads the letter.

Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, TPS designations have been regularly extended for the maximum 18-month period based on a holistic assessment of countries’ ability to reabsorb their citizens.

But under President Trump, the federal government has taken a stricter interpretation of the statute governing TPS.

In November, then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke canceled TPS for nearly 60,000 Haitians and 5,000 Nicaraguans.

But Duke avoided making a decision on the fate of 86,000 Hondurans, detonating an automatic six-month renewal of the country’s TPS status, reportedly angering White House chief of staff John Kelly.

As Duke’s predecessor, Kelly outlined the administration’s interpretation of the TPS statute, arguing that the status can only be renewed if conditions caused by the original disaster have not improved.

Kelly, who as DHS secretary renewed Haiti’s status for six months, argued that despite Haiti’s extreme poverty and a cholera epidemic, the reconstruction of the country’s seat of government was a sign that Haiti had recovered from the 2010 earthquake that triggered its nationals being granted TPS status.

Many TPS activists expect to hear a similar argument regarding El Salvador’s 2001 earthquakes, despite the country’s poverty and rampant crime.

In the Cities for Action letter, the mayors argue El Salvador’s designation has been justly renewed, as natural disasters subsequent to the original earthquakes have maintained unstable living conditions.

They add that criminal gangs, including MS-13, have benefited from the country’s instability.

“In the security vacuum left by a government that struggles to address even its most basic infrastructural needs, violence and crime ravage the country. Activity by brutal gangs such as 18th Street and MS-13 is widespread, armed robbery is common, and the country has one of the world’s highest murder rates,” reads the letter.

Tags Department of Homeland Security Donald Trump El Salvador El Salvador Elaine Duke Haiti Honduras John Kelly Kirstjen Nielsen Rex Tillerson Temporary protected status

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