In early January 2018, President Trump’s administration announced it was ending the temporary protected status (TPS) for Salvadoran immigrants. Former President George Bush Sr. began the TPS program in 1990. It was designed for nationals of a different country to stay temporarily and legally in the United States because of unsafe conditions in the nationals’ home country. The unsafe circumstances that prevented foreign nationals from returning home ranged from environmental disasters to armed conflicts.
In 2001, Salvadorans were given temporary protected status after two devastating earthquakes killed over a thousand people in El Salvador and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. President Trump’s administration has justified ending TPS for Salvadoran immigrants because El Salvador has had enough time to recover and rebuild its infrastructure since 2001. The administration is giving Salvadoran immigrants until September of 2019 to uproot and abandon the lives they have built here in the United States for the past seventeen years.
To say that it is safe for Salvadorans to return to their home country and that El Salvador is ready to receive 200,000 people is a fiction. TPS has been extended to Salvadorans over the last seventeen years on numerous occasions, most recently in 2016, due to drought, gang violence, and widespread poverty.
According to a report conducted by the World Bank in 2016, El Salvador is the slowest growing economy in Central America and forty-one percent of households live below the poverty line. Although gang violence continues to threaten economic and social development in El Salvador, the country has reduced inequality and experienced some growth in areas like the health sector. Nonetheless, burdening the country by forcing them to take in 200,000 people displaced from the United States would seriously hinder what little economic growth the country is experiencing.
El Salvador is clearly not capable nor willing to receive 200,000 people, evidenced by the fact that El Salvador’s president has urged the United States to renew TPS for Salvadorans. Moreover, the president of El Salvador has attempted to make a deal with the government of Qatar, which would allow Salvadorans coming from the United States to work as migrants in Qatar. Qatar is notorious for human rights violations to migrant workers, and the willingness to subject Salvadorans to such human rights abuses shows the Salvadoran government’s desperation and an inability to receive so many people.
The principle of non-refoulement, expressed in Article 33(1) of the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, states “no contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Under current international law, a refugee is any person fleeing a country on fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group, or political opinion. Salvadorans would not likely qualify for refugee status because they do not face a specific form of persecution if returned to El Salvador.
According to a UN Human Rights Council advisory opinion, however, non-refoulement does not only apply to recognized refugees but to any person who has not had their status formally declared or any person seeking asylum. Salvadorans should be considered as asylum-seekers in the United States because of the unsafe conditions and lack of opportunity in their home country. If they are considered asylum-seekers, it is illegal under Article 33(1) of the 1951 UN Convention to return them to El Salvador.
To deport Salvadorans, who have lived legally in the United States since 2001 could also be a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 6(1) of the ICCPR states that every human has the inherent right to life. According to the UN Human Rights Council advisory opinion, Article 6 is also interpreted to mean that a State is under the obligation not to “extradite, deport, expel or otherwise remove a person from their territory, where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm.”
To force Salvadorans immigrants to uproot their lives and return to a country that is plagued with poverty and violence is a serious deprivation of life. The United States should, at the minimum, renew TPS for Salvadoran immigrants until conditions are safe to ensure the preservation of Salvadoran’s human rights. Ultimately, however, the United States should seek to implement a long-term solution to give Salvadorans, who have built a life in the United States, a permanent home in the United States.