What is temporary protected status in the U.S. and how does it work?

By Frank Fernandez Web Only

What is temporary protected status in the U.S. and how does it work?


Now that a new administration is set to take over the White House, many people are wondering how the results of the 2016 election will affect the state of immigration in America. For decades, lawmakers have argued over what the government should, could, and will do about undocumented immigrants who live on US soil. Some believe that they should be given amnesty, while others think that they should be returned to their native land, and come to America using the channels that are deemed legal.

Those who believe in repatriation insist that undocumented workers have a positive effect on the economy and on their communities. They maintain that these workers help to revitalize neighborhoods, and that they do the jobs that many Americans are unwilling to do. Proponents of this approach to illegal immigration think the best way to tackle the undocumented immigrant status of millions around the nation is by putting those people on a path to citizenship.

Undocumented workers are not the only non-permanent immigrants who are a matter of concern for immigration policy. Hundreds of other immigrants in the United States fit into a different category. They have something called Temporary Protected Status. It is a law that shields foreign-born natives when the country that they migrate from has had a natural disaster, or if violent conflicts are producing inhumane conditions. In Minnesota alone, there are thousands of immigrants protected under TPS because they have fled from their native country due to war or a natural disaster.

The TPS protects immigrants from thirteen countries. These include Haiti, El Salvador, Nepal, and Syria, along with others. Some immigrants lived in America for mere weeks, while others fled their native land due to conflict decades ago, and have been living here since 1991 without gaining the privilege of permanent residency.

The typical path for those granted TPS status is that they are given a couple of years to live and work in the US legally, and then they have to renew their status multiple times. These TPS status renewals are all dependent upon the conditions in the country from which they fled.. For example, Liberians who have recently immigrated to the US for protection have been given an 18 month extension, because conditions in their native country have not resolved and still pose harm to those who return “home”.

TPS has been a protected service since 1990, and was created by the United States Congress to provide foreign-born citizens the right to remain on US soil without being deported to countries that have harmful or inhumane conditions. It also allows those who are here temporarily to have gainful employment to support themselves and to be of benefit to society.

As a type of humanitarian protection, TPS is in accordance with international law that states that a country cannot return people to their foreign countries if they face prosecution or imprisonment, or if they are at risk of harm.  TPS status also prevents authorities from deporting a person to their native country if that country’s government does not have the means to provide them with the means to survive.

Immigrants granted TPS status are capable of gaining legal employment, obtaining a social security card, and getting a driver’s license. They may also be eligible for access to Minnesota Care when necessary. TPS does not, however, allow you to apply for a Green Card, or for you to travel at will.

The best immigration lawyer will tell you the biggest drawback to the TPS status is that because it does not give people a right to a Green Card, many immigrants who fled under awful conditions more than thirty years ago are still having difficulty obtaining permanent status. They don’t have the security to know that they can stay here, yet they have built their lives in America.

In many cases, they have set down roots and established a home where they aren’t afforded any benefits of security. This can leave many immigrants without the capacity to better themselves by attending schools, having a family, or planning a life. Because they’re never sure if they can stay eighteen months or thirty years, there is no concreteness to their world here in America.

This predisposes these immigrants to poverty and a lower socioeconomic status. It also renders them less likely to fully assimilate. If there may come a time that they are forced to return to their native land, assimilating doesn’t seem necessary or beneficial.

TPS status is very vulnerable. It only takes a misdemeanor charge for a person to lose their status. That leaves those here with TPS status unsure and vulnerable. It isn’t just Minnesota that is debating the question of TPS. It may become a high-profile discussion in the near future,  as a new presidential administration takes hold. The complexity of immigration law is not an issue that is immediately solvable or clear-cut, which is why it has remained unresolved for so many decades.

Formerly a District Attorney in the City of St. Louis, Frank Fernandez currently owns his private practice focusing on criminal defense in Boston for over 10 years. The author's views are his own.

Photo licensed under Creative Commons by  laverrue.

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