To Start the New Year, Congress Plots Amnesty by another Name

Published on January 18th, 2016

By Joe Guzzardi
January 18, 2016
On Capitol Hill, Friday is politicians’ preferred day to sneak unpopular news past an unsuspecting public. Congress is getting out of town, and most Americans pay less attention to the weekend news so the timing is perfect to float an unpopular idea.
On the first Friday after the New Year, Congressional Democrats sent a petition asking President Obama to grant amnesty to over one million Central Americans. Of course, no one called it amnesty, a toxic word around Washington. Instead, the petition asked that illegal aliens from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a program Congress approved in 1990, but which is widely abused and should be inapplicable to the current Central American surge. TPS is extended to 11 different countries and is permanent rather than temporary. The Department of Homeland Security routinely grants extensions even after the crisis back home has long ago been resolved.
Prime example: Nicaraguans first got TPS in 1999 post-Hurricane Mitch. TPS status for Nicaragua has consistently been renewed since, and has created a “temporary” U.S. residency period of 16 years. As for conditions in Nicaragua, the Los Angeles Times in its travel section described them as “a tropical paradise.”
Ian Smith, Immigration Reform Law Institute counsel, explained how TPS has devolved into a rolling amnesty. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, one of three conditions must be in place before TPS can be designated: 1) situations of ongoing war that pose a serious threat to a potential deportee, 2) natural disaster so disruptive that the foreign state requests it; and 3) “extraordinary and temporary conditions” with the added caveat that a temporary amnesty not be “contrary to the national interest of the United States.” During TPS’ first seven years, all grants were made according to the first requirement. In 1995, Rwandan Illegal aliens in the U.S. were granted TPS following that country’s ethnic civil war which killed an estimated one million people. As for natural disasters, Honduran and Salvadorans also received TPS following severe flooding and earthquakes.  
Currently in Central America, no wars are ongoing. Nor are there natural disasters or extraordinary conditions. What does exist in Central America, however, is the knowledge that President Obama’s administration deports few illegal immigrants, and that awareness more than any other factor incentivizes the ongoing border surge. Since the beginning of FY 2016, border crossings have doubled over the previous year. At the 2014 surge’s beginning, Obama pledged to return the migrants home. Instead, the President apparently ordered border patrol agents to release them after giving them a “permiso” letter to appear in immigration court which most ignored. Instead of fulfilling his promise to deport the migrants, Obama then authorized a new program to fly Central American minors to the U. S. to reunite them with their illegal immigrant families.
On the surface, TPS appears a humane approach to assuring that foreign nationals will not be put at risk when returned. But the “temporary” part of the equation is lost. No one goes home. TPS includes work permits for recipients which increases the labor pool, and places job market pressure on under-employed, under-skilled American workers.
More than two decades ago, enforcement advocates coined a phrase that’s as true today as it was 20 years ago: Nothing is as permanent as a temporary resident.

Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow. Contact him at [email protected]

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