As the financial security of thousands of federal employees, some of them friends and family of mine, hangs in the balance, much has been said in the last few weeks about border security, immigration reform, and protecting vulnerable populations. Perhaps reasonable minds can differ in their approach of border security; personally, I think the border wall is a waste of resources that could be better spent on infrastructure, education, the establishment of an independent immigration court system, and hiring more immigration judges to adjudicate the hundreds of thousands of pending cases. But there is a lot in the Trump-McConnell bill that reasonable minds cannot differ on: the proposed changes to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and asylum law. These provisions are poison pills, benefit no one, and deprive some of the most vulnerable members of our community from much-needed protection.
DACA recipients, popularly referred to as “Dreamers,” are individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children, many of whom are currently protected despite the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind DACA, thus far blocked by the courts. This bill, however, would severely restrict who would be eligible for a temporary extension of status similar to DACA. Most notably, any DACA recipient with a removal order would no longer be eligible for protection. That means that a recipient whose parent made ill-informed decisions about how to proceed with their immigration court case would be immediately vulnerable to deportation.
TPS recipients, whose home countries have suffered severe natural disasters or civil unrest, are similarly restricted from renewing their status if they have certain types of removal orders. More importantly, the provision in the bill only covers TPS recipients from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Haiti. It does not help TPS recipients from Sudan (whose TPS was also terminated by the Trump administration), nor does it address TPS recipients from South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, and Nepal, whose TPS status will be up for possible termination in 2019 and 2020. Like the changes to DACA, this bill leaves thousands of TPS beneficiaries without any protection in the short- or long-term.
Asylum for Central American Minors
Most horrendous among the changes embedded in the bill are those to U.S. asylum law. The bill specifically targets minors from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, and bars them from seeking asylum in the United States, if they are already present in the country or have presented themselves at a port of entry. Instead, these children would be forced to apply for asylum through as-of-yet nonexistent processing centers in Central America and Mexico – processing centers that the United States government has no authority to establish without the permission of these countries’ governments and which would take over 200 days to set up. Until these are open, no Central American minor would be able to seek asylum in the U.S. How can a minor child find qualified U.S. immigration counsel when their asylum interview is scheduled in Belize? Or Costa Rica? Or in the very countries in which these children’s lives have been threatened? It’s a farce, and one that jeopardizes the safety of children.
Our nation has benefitted immeasurably from the shared prosperity we have enjoyed as a nation of immigrants. The American Dream is one that people from all over the world have made their own, and our economy, society, and culture have thrived as we welcomed immigrants, and provided protection to those whose lives are in danger. We should continue that American tradition, and reject this bill, which does not honor our values as a nation.