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Advocates want GOP to address 'possibly illegal' Trump policy against immigrants

Advocates want GOP to address 'possibly illegal' Trump policy against immigrants
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Advocacy groups want a top GOP senator to take action on a Democratic report alleging ‘unethical and possibly illegal’ actions by the Trump administration against immigrants living in the U.S.

In a letter that will be sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a coalition of 44 groups say Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischWhy the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque MORE (R-Idaho) must address the findings of a November report by ranking member Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezWatchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump Kasie Hunt to host lead-in show for MSNBC's 'Morning Joe' Senators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report MORE (D-N.J.) on the administration's efforts to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) benefits for citizens of certain Central American and Caribbean countries.

"It is deeply distressing that there has been no further action by the committee to address the findings released in the report," reads the letter signed by the Service Employees International Union, the Center for American Progress, the U.S. branch of Oxfam and other progressive groups.

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TPS defers deportation and grants work permits to nationals of designated countries who are in the U.S. following a man-made or natural disaster in their home countries.

The Trump administration has sought to withdraw TPS benefits for nearly 400,000 foreign nationals, including an estimated 195,000 Salvadorans, 60,000 Hondurans and nearly 50,000 Haitians.

Menendez alleged in his report that the administration's decision to end the program for those countries was driven by politics, including 2020 electoral considerations, rather than conditions on the ground. The report said State Department experts on the ground warned against termination.

"They warned such a move could endanger 273,000 US citizen children who might face family separation, hurt efforts to combat international criminal gangs and drug trafficking and lead to more mass migration to the United States," the groups wrote in their letter to Risch.

"With full knowledge of these consequences, Trump administration political appointees not only moved forward with their plans to terminate TPS but accelerated the timeline for El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti, among others, to better align with the Trump re-election campaign," the coalition added.

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Risch has not issued an official response to Menendez’s report, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TPS designations, particularly for countries in the Western Hemisphere, have been renewed almost automatically by successive Democratic and Republican administrations; the Salvadoran designation has been active since 2001 following two earthquakes that ravaged the country.

In 2017, the Trump administration announced the termination of TPS designations for Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti, though all three terminations were suspended through court action.

Political appointees in Washington argued for different lengths of extensions and wind-down periods, but the State Department policy-planning staff recommended to then-Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Gary Cohn: 'I haven't made up my mind' on vote for president in November Kushner says 'Alice in Wonderland' describes Trump presidency: Woodward book MORE a shorter wind-down to avoid 2020 electoral implications.

"Although a 36-month wind down period is not precluded by the plain language of the statute, this period would be double the longest amount of time TPS status can be extended under statute. It would put the wind down of the program directly in the middle of the 2020 election cycle," read the policy planning recommendation, according to internal State Department memos cited in Menendez’s report.

Advocacy groups said in their letter that such action may have broken the law.

"This outrageous abuse of power not only directly contradicts the recommendations of officials who urged then-Secretary Rex Tillerson to strongly endorse a 36-month wind-down period but may be a violation of the law. By statute, the TPS redesignation process must be devoid of political or electoral considerations," the groups wrote.