When it comes to vetting potential immigrants, observing how they act for a decade or more seems to be a very fine method. So it’s frustrating, and not in the nation’s best interest, that hundreds of thousands of immigrants granted Temporary Protected Status a decade or more ago, who’ve been model residents, will be sent home.
But endlessly extending that temporary status, meant to be granted to citizens of nations undergoing natural disasters, armed conflict, epidemics or other extraordinary and temporary conditions, is not the answer either. Doing so threatens to undermine support for and make a mockery of a kind and crucial program.
The TPS program began under President George H.W. Bush in 1990. It has since allowed residents of about 20 countries to come to the United States when conditions at home became catastrophic. But the status is frequently extended far beyond recent emergencies, because the nations whose citizens receive the status are often terrified even after immediate disasters pass.
President Donald Trump has announced TPS for 59,000 Haitians, granted after a 2010 earthquake, and 2,500 Nicaraguans allowed to come after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, will end next year. TPS status for about 260,000 Salvadorans, granted after a 2001 earthquake, will also likely end.
This matters very much on Long Island, where significant communities of Haitians and Salvadorans have, thanks to TPS, worked hard, paid taxes and built a life. But advocates who demand the TPS status be extended endlessly have the wrong answer. And demanding that “temporary” status not be allowed to last forever does not necessarily make those who argue for this policy xenophobic, or even anti-immigrant.
It’s wonderfully generous that the United States welcomes victims of catastrophes and those fleeing violence and disease. Ideally, we’d offer sanctuary to even more such people. Certainly there is no shortage of people who need that help, and no shortage of Americans willing and able to provide it. But the surest way to undermine political support for such a program is to make a mockery of the “temporary” label. That puts real ammunition in the hands of a loud few who’d rather we not extend our hand to anyone at all.
This country should always be in the market for great people. Americans overwhelmingly say they support legal immigration, when a process is followed and the newcomers are properly vetted. And there is no better check on a person’s background than clear evidence of how they behave while they actually live here.
The answer is to make TPS properly temporary, but to also create a bridge from TPS to permanent residency for those who qualify. That would mean absolutely no criminal record, a good work history, a reasonable fee and an interview process.
That way, TPS recipients who have become integral and valuable parts of our communities would have a way to stay and keep enriching our nation when that status has ended. And those who failed to endure the vetting process, or get through it, would return home due to their own actions.
Ideally, such a process would be created while the TPS recipients about to be sent home could benefit. If they leave, families are going to be torn apart, children born here will be living without parents, homes will be empty, jobs undone.
There is always room for good people here. Immigrants built this nation, and created more jobs than they took in the process. TPS status ought to be truly temporary. But for the best people who come to the United States through TPS, their stay here ought to be permanent.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.