Last updated on October 3rd, 2017
The Immigration Act of 1990 created a procedure by which the U.S. Attorney General can provide Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to aliens from a foreign state when conditions in that state prevent them from safely returning home. When TPS is granted, foreign nationals of the designated country are authorized to remain and work in the United States until the status is removed. TPS allows aliens to avoid deportation provided they came to the United States on or before a date specified by the Department of Homeland Security.
TPS prevents the Department of Homeland Security from deporting people to dangerous countries. This humanitarian policy does not invite foreign nationals to come to the United States, but simply allows the ones already in the U.S. to remain and work temporarily until conditions in their home countries improve.
As of June 2015, twenty countries have been designated under TPS in response to dangerous situations including civil war, earthquakes, hurricanes, and disease outbreaks.
The first country designated for TPS was Somalia in 1991 because armed conflict in the country made it unsafe for nationals to return. Since then, civil wars have prompted the U.S. government to designate several nations for TPS including Sudan, Rwanda, and Kosovo.
In Syria the government has lost control over some regions with multiple factions struggling for power in the country. The U.S. designated Syria for TPS in 2013 and the policy remains in place today with no end in sight.
Kosovo was designated from 1998 to 2000. Sierra Leone was designated from 1997 to 2003 due to armed conflict in the region and currently has TPS because of the Ebola crisis of 2014. a 1991 civil war in Lebanon allowed TPS to be granted from 1991 to 1993.
Civil war in Angola that lasted more than twenty years led the United States to designate Angola for TPS from 2000 to 2003 after the war in ended in 2002.
A genocide and civil war took place in Burundi in 1993 which led to Burundi being designated under TPS from 1997 until 2007.
In each of these cases the American government has decided that armed conflict in the region made it unsafe for nationals to return. Sometimes it has been because the local government cannot control the violence and sometimes it’s because the government itself is causing the violence.
Genocide (1993 and 1994)
In 1995 Bosnian Serbs carried out an “ethnic cleansing” campaign against other cultural groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In response to the violence, Bosnia-Herzegovina was designated under TPS from 1995 until 2000.
Rwanda was designated for TPS following the genocide carried out by Hutus against Tutsis. From 1995 to 1997 Rwanda was designated for TPS in the aftermath of the genocide which killed between 500,000 and 1 million people.
Foreign Invasion (1991)
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Kuwait was designated under the TPS program from March of 1991 until January of 1992.
Volcanic Eruption (1995)
A previously dormant volcano on the small Caribbean island nation of Montserrat erupted in 1995 burying the island’s capital in mud and ash. The volcano continued spewing ash into the sky periodically over the next several years and Montserrat was designated for TPS from 1997 to 2004.
Hurricane Mitch (1998)
When Hurricane Mitch tore through Central America in the fall of 1998, nearly 11,000 people were confirmed dead and many more missing. The Category 5 hurricane caused flooding and mudslides, destroying homes and crippling infrastructure in Honduras and Nicaragua. In response to the destruction, the Clinton Administration granted TPS to Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals in the United States. TPS has since been extended into 2016 for those who have been in the United States since the hurricane.
Earthquakes (2001 and 2010)
In 2001 a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck El Salvador which killed at least 944 people, injured more than five thousand, and severely damaged the country’s infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Justice determined that conditions in El Salvador rendered the country unable to adequately handle the return of its citizens. The Attorney General designated El Salvador under the TPS program for the following eighteen months and this status has since been extended into September of 2016.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010 was followed by at least 52 aftershocks which affected approximately three million people. Conservative death toll estimates range from 100,000 to 160,000 and as many as 250,000 homes and 30,000 commercial buildings were destroyed or severely damaged. Following the Haitian earthquake in 2010, TPS has been extended through January 22, 2016.
Ebola Outbreak (2014)
When the deadly Ebola virus spread rapidly through West Africa in the summer of 2014, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone lacked the proper healthcare systems to effectively handle the crisis. Deporting aliens in the United States to these three countries would put them in severe danger of infection, furthering the spread of the virus. Because the governments of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone could not appropriately protect their citizens, these countries were designated for TPS.
Where We Are Now
When deporting undocumented immigrants would put them in severe danger, the American conscience prevents us from doing so. While legalized and regulated migration is the safest and most rational approach to traveling the world, there have been times in history when extraordinary circumstances warrant exceptions.
Even without TPS, many people are eligible to apply for and successfully receive asylum in the United States. This can be done when certain characteristics of the applicant (such as race, religion, or political beliefs) put him or her at risk of being hurt or killed in his or her home country.
But TPS is used for situations in which the conditions themselves pose a risk to all people living there. After the earthquake in Haiti the American government could not force aliens to return because they may not have had a house to return to that was still standing. While Ebola ravaged West Africa, sending Liberians home would put them at a severe risk of contracting the virus and contributing to its spread. And when armed conflict tore countries apart, deportation would have meant sending innocent defenseless civilians into a chaotic war zone.
Today in Central America the local governments are unable to control gang violence. For many Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran immigrants in the United States, deportation would effectively constitute a death sentence.
Where ruthless gangs have as much or more power than governments, is there really a difference between conditions in Central America and conditions in other war-torn countries?
For these reasons, Temporary Protected Status should be allowed in the event of wide-spread gang violence for the same reasons the USA grants TPS during times of political and physical turmoil, or even civil war.