TPS and Family Reunification Issues

An initial period of TPS should be granted for Honduras and El Salvador to provide relief from gang violence and reunite families.

Last updated on March 26th, 2019

“TPS” is an acronym for “temporary protected status,” a status granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security to individuals from a particular country due to conditions that temporarily prevent that country’s nationals from returning safely.

TPS is usually recognized in instances of military coups, civil war, natural disasters, or other severe, but temporary conditions. By designating a country for TPS, those nationals who have made it to the United States may obtain employment authorization and work, they may travel throughout the United States, and, most importantly, they are not removable from the United States.

Currently, the Secretary of Homeland Security has recognized twelve countries as unsafe for their nationals to return. As a result, migrants from such countries who have made it to the United States may remain, provided they are eligible.

What needs to be emphasized is the purpose of TPS designation: the recognition that an environment is so unsafe our government has chosen to temporarily allow nationals to stay in the United States.

History of Temporary Protected Status

TPS was enacted as a form of humanitarian relief; a movement congressionally approved under the principle of nonrefoulment – where a government will not return an alien to a country that may endanger their life or liberty.

Since the early 1990’s, the United States has engaged in this humanitarian relief; providing refuge to victims of civil war in El Salvador to the rescue efforts administered post earthquake in Haiti. Congress recognized that certain nationals need protection that their country cannot provide but the United States can.

For additional information, view “A History of Temporary Protected Status.”

Bridging the Gap to Achieve Intended TPS Protections

TPS is a successful humanitarian program, and an important part of U.S. immigration law; however, there remains a large deficit that needs to be addressed–family members left behind in the home country. Family members of individuals who have been granted TPS are not eligible for immigration benefits on the basis of their relationship.

This begs the question, how can the government allow TPS for an individual who has made it to the United States, but not extend the same protection to their immediate family members?

The Current Problem Facing Children in El Salvador and Honduras

In Honduras and El Salvador, as a result of disaster and other conditions, gangs currently have control over the population in many towns and cities. These gangs are recruiting children as early as age twelve, sometimes even younger, to join their ranks.

The term “recruit” should be used loosely–children who refuse to join a gang are killed.

Consequently, children from Central America come to the U.S. border seeking protection from gangs, but also to be reunited with parents and family members present in the United States, many of whom have lawful status.

One True-to-Life Example

Let’s break it down by looking at a true-to-life scenario. Consider the story of Marcos and Maria.

Marcos is a child born in El Salvador in 1999. After his father abandoned the family, his mother, Maria, was unable to find work and support her family because of social conditions in her country due to machismo culture and sex-based discrimination.

To provide for her family, Maria headed to the United States to find work, leaving her son with her mother.

In 2001 an earthquake in El Salvador devastated the country of El Salvador, and the U.S. government granted Temporary Protected Status to El Salvadoran nationals currently living in the U.S. Maria applied for, and was granted, TPS. She has renewed TPS each time it was available and is currently living in the U.S. with lawful TPS status.

Meanwhile, Maria sends money each month to her mother and her son, Marcos, in El Salvador. Marcos does well in school, keeps his nose clean, and is a good kid, but Marcos has a problem.

Marcos excels at sports and in academics, and other kids at school notice that he has clean clothes and clean shoes. One of his classmates, a gang member, tells him at school one day that someone with his talents should join the gang. Marcos says no.

Later, walking home from school in the street, Marcos is approached by a group of boys who have joined the gang. They ask him to join the gang again, and again Marcos refuses.

A week later, Marcos is approached by the same group who ask him to join the gang again. When Marcos refuses, the group beats Marcos up, stabs him in the arm, and leaves him in the street. They tell him he has one week to join or they will kill him.

When he gets home, he can’t hide the stab wound from his grandmother. She finally admits to Marcos that they have been paying “rent” to the gangs so that they would leave Marcos alone, but that the payments have increased to the point that Marcos’s mother, Maria, can no longer send enough money to keep the gangs away.

At this point, Marcos decides to go north and live with his mother who currently lives in the U.S. in lawful TPS status.

When he crosses the border, Marcos is apprehended and placed in a juvenile detention center for children fleeing gang violence in Central America. Eventually, the Office of Refugee Resettlement contacts his mother and Marcos is given a bus ticket to travel to his mother.

Maria is worried about what to do–she has received a file filled with paperwork that she wouldn’t understand even if she did know how to read English.

After obtaining legal counsel she learns that her son could apply for something called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) or perhaps Asylum. However, she lives in a jurisdiction where the family court generally doesn’t grant the appropriate state court order that immigrants need in order to apply for SIJS–even though Marcos would be eligible for SIJS, that option is unavailable to him.

As for Marcos’ asylum claim, Maria learns that gang-based asylum claims are generally not recognized by immigration courts. While delays in the immigration process may allow her son to remain in the United States for a number of years, the end result is that her son will most likely be deported.

However, if the U.S. were to grant TPS to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala because of gang violence, then Marcos would be able to live in the U.S. with lawful status until the gang-violence issues in his country were resolved.

The story above is fairly representative. Unfortunately, many children are being deported, or will be deported, even though conditions in El Salvador and Honduras are more violent and dangerous than they have ever been.

Meanwhile, parents who live in the U.S. with lawful status must make terrifying choices–allow their child to be deported back to Central America alone, or leave the family and life they have created in the United States to go with their teenage child.

TPS Should Be Granted to El Salvador and Honduras Because of Gang Violence

TPS was granted to El Salvador in 2001 after an earthquake claimed 544 lives.

TPS was granted to Honduras in 1999 after a hurricane claimed an estimated 7,000 lives in that country.

Gang violence claims 14,960 lives on an annual basis in Honduras alone.

Two of the most effective strategies to help defend a minor immigrant from deportation involve SIJS and asylum. However, many children fleeing gang violence do not qualify for SIJS or the increasingly-narrow definition of asylum in the U.S.

Those who make the dangerous trek north face the terrible possibility that after they have escaped the violent conditions of Central America they are likely to be returned there.

As U.S. immigration law currently stands, the United States is not well equipped to handle the humanitarian crisis we currently face. With immigrant children flooding our border each year, our immigration courts fill up and our system is overburdened.

However, were TPS to be granted, these children would be able to continue living with their family safely in the United States until conditions in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala improve.


As referenced above, many border children are subject to the same dangers that the United States has recognized and deemed sufficient for protection of their parents. However, because these children didn’t happen to be in the U.S. when TPS was granted for Honduras in 1999 or El Salvador in 2001, these children are forced to live separate from their parents and fend for themselves in the violent conditions of their home countries.

How can the United States government recognize a situation that threatens life or liberty, offer protection to the parents of the family premised on humanitarian principles, and then inhumanely turn a fragmented family around to fend for itself?

An initial period of TPS should be granted for Honduras and El Salvador to provide relief from gang violence, and, if for no other reason, to unite families who have been separated by the unintended consequences immigration law.

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