TPS Renewed, El Salvador's Minister of Affairs Visits Department of Homeland Security
On January 9th the United States renewed the Temporary Protective Status (TPS) for El Salvador. TPS is a program which allows the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary legal status to immigrants who cannot return to their home country because of adverse conditions there. TPS was first granted to Salvadorans in 2001 following two devastating earthquakes in El Salvador, and now covers around 212,000 Salvadorans. The renewal of TPS can be seen as a victory for two reasons. First, the renewal of TPS has often been used as a scare tactic by the right-wing, especially during election season. Right-wing political parties, occasionally backed by Republican Members of Congress, have threatened that the US would not renew TPS for El Salvador if the FMLN won elections, which has proven not to be true; in fact, TPS has been renewed twice since the election of President Funes in March 2009. Second, addressing the needs of Salvadorans living in the US is one of the main foreign policy goals of the Funes government with regard to US-El Salvador relations. Renewing TPS is one part of achieving that goal, as Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Relations Hugo Martínez explained in a recent presentation to the Salvadoran community in Washington, DC, where he reported on his meeting with DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. But Martínez acknowleged that TPS is just one piece of the puzzle, especially as it protects only a minority of the estimated 1.2 million Salvadorans living in the US. Furthermore, one of the challenges of TPS is that residents must re-enroll in the program, including paying hefty fees that amount to over $500, every time the program is renewed, or roughly every eighteen months. Over the next two months, the highest priority of the Salvadoran consulates across the United States will be to reach out to the Salvadoran community to ensure that they get their renewal applications in before the March 9th 2012 deadline, when the current TPS period will expire. Recognizing that comprehensive immigration reform is unlikely in the near future, the Salvadoran government has made several proposals to the Obama administration to help more Salvadorans remain in the US more safely. The first is to create a mechanism whereby Salvadorans covered under TPS could become legal permanent residents. The second is to reduce the total number of deportations by limiting deportations of Salvadorans with no criminal records or who are otherwise part of a more vulnerable population, including single mothers and seniors. While DHS claims to share these priorities, recent reports show that, in some jurisdictions, the percentage of people being deported under the so-called ‘Secure Communities’ program who have not been charged with a crime or been charged with only a minor crime can be as high as eighty percent. During his meetings in DC, Minister Martínez also delivered a letter from President Funes to President Obama asking for special consideration for Salvadorans whose families were affected by the devastating rains in November to be able to remain in the US, as the expansion of TPS itself is highly unlikely. Martínez also reported that the Ministry of Foreign Relations has been expanding its consular network in transit countries because they recognize that migrants in transit are in a very vulnerable situation and need special attention. To this end new consular offices were opened in 7 Mexican cities to provide services to Salvadorans. He also announced that in the second half of this term, the Ministry will shift its focus to expanding consular services in the US and other countries, including the necessary preparations for Salvadorans living outside the country to be able to vote in the 2014 presidential elections.