It’s a bright, cold April day in Washington and the clocks are striking thirteen. I’m looking at the headquarters of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — USCIS in Washington-speak — and from where I stand it is just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, one of the slogans of the agency:
Temporary Is Permanent
This brought to mind last week’s grant of Temporary Protected Status to illegal aliens and temporary visitors from Syria. The civil unrest there is the kind of situation that TPS was designed to address, and the numbers aren’t large — USCIS estimates 2,500–3,000 people are eligible. But Syria’s misfortune is their windfall — despite the “Temporary” label, none of them will ever have to return to the Middle East, no matter what the outcome there, and they are all assured of getting permanent status eventually, though it may take a number of years. In the meantime they get to work and live here legally, start businesses, buy houses, etc., just like Americans or permanent residents.
The reality that there’s nothing as permanent as a temporary refugee was even more apparent from a press conference scheduled for today. CARECEN (a group established by the Salvadorean Communist guerrillas to subvert U.S. immigration law through the sanctuary movement of the 1980s) is launching a campaign to get green cards for the quarter-million Central American illegal aliens who’ve enjoyed “Temporary” Protected Status for more than a decade — because of a 2001 earthquake in El Salvador and a 1998 hurricane in Honduras and Nicaragua. Heck, even if TPS is nominally terminated, as it was for Liberians in 2006 (they initially received it in 1991), USCIS just granted them “Deferred Enforced Departure,” which is the same status under a different name, so they still don’t have to leave.
There’s no doubt that there’s a need for something like TPS — you can’t deport illegal aliens if their airport is rubble. But my colleague David North has laid out an alternative method, whereby we would temporarily halt deportations of illegals to a country where civil strife or natural disaster has reached a certain level of seriousness, and freeze the status of those with temporary visas — but not create any new status and not issue work permits to anyone who doesn’t have them, and thus not create the “long-term, windfall benefits” that TPS provides.