Trump administration ignored warnings about ending refugee protections


One State Department official warned that ending the programs would be 'counterproductive to U.S. interests.'

The Trump administration ignored the advice of State Department officials and may have let political calculations around the 2020 election influence its decision to try and end refugee protections for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, and Honduras, Vox reported Thursday.

The revelations come from internal State Department documents obtained by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a report by Democrats on that committee, first reported by Vox.

In November 2017, Trump tried to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs that had allowed approximately 400,000 citizens of the three aforementioned countries to live and work in the United States following natural disasters or wars back home.

At the time, Vox noted, a senior administration official justified the move by claiming the law was "relatively explicit that if the conditions on the ground do not support a TPS designation, the [administration] must terminate the TPS designation."

However, prior to that decision, Thomas Shannon, the State Department's most senior foreign service official, wrote a memo, stating that "it is our purpose to provide the best possible foreign policy and diplomatic advice. From my point of view, that advice is obvious: extend TPS for the countries indicated."

The department, in internal documents, estimated that ending the programs would force more than 270,000 children who are U.S. citizens to become separated from their parents or returned to El Salvador and Honduras. State Department officials worried the limited job opportunities could pressure children to be recruited by violent gangs like MS-13, according to the documents.

"This prevalence of de facto forced family separation would have a lasting and traumatizing impact on the lives of the US citizen children of TPS recipients and would irreparably harm American families," the documents added.

In June 2017, the head of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, Heide Fulton, wrote a memo stating that ending the TPS program would also "impose severe burdens" on the Honduran government and "be counterproductive to U.S. interests."

Senior department officials said that if the program must be ended, it should be done over a three-year period.

But that would have put the final days of that period "directly in the middle of the 2020 election cycle," according to a memo from a senior State Department official.

According to Vox, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had been advised against pulling the plug on the TPS designations, later "scribbled on the memo that the wind-down period should instead be 18 months — a decision that ran counter to every recommendation by career diplomats in the State Department."

Trump eventually attempted to end the TPS program in November 2017, but federal courts have since stepped in to temporarily halt the process.

The administration's alleged attempts to ignore official warnings and cut crucial protections for refugees comes amid a broader push by Trump to crack down on immigration, both legal and undocumented. Since taking office, Trump has imposed discriminatory bans on travelers from predominantly Muslim countries and implemented an abusive zero-tolerance policy at the U.S. southwest border that resulted in thousands of children being separated from their families, some of them indefinitely.

Trump and his officials have defended those practices under the guise of the administration's "America First" policy. Some have come under fire for using white nationalist rhetoric to argue in favor of the policy.

The administration, meanwhile, has tried to undermine lingering TPS designations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and several other countries, as a case to uphold those protections works through the courts.

According to immigration attorneys who spoke to WLRN earlier this month, officials have instituted small technical changes within TPS rules that have effectively cut off immigrants' path to citizenship -- essentially exploiting a loophole to target those immigrants from TPS designated countries regardless of the court delays.

"We have had dozens and dozens of cases impacted by this change," Randy McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services of Miami, told the outlet. "The new policy overturns a decade long practice. And it's happened without notice, without any legal analysis, and frankly without any justification in the law."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.