Career Diplomats Pushed Back on Trump’s Attempt to End ‘Temporary Protected Status’ for Central American Migrants

President Donald Trump signs an executive order on immigration policy with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence at his sides in the Oval Office, June 20, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

The early Trump administration batted down warnings from career U.S. diplomats who warned that some hardline immigration policies could have dangerous national security consequences, according to diplomatic cables released by Senate Democrats Thursday.

Some diplomats, including those at the U.S. Embassies in El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti, were concerned that the administration’s plan to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for undocumented immigrants would cause a spike in transnational crime and illegal immigration, and would damage the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean.

“A sudden termination of TPS for El Salvador would undermine additional cooperation to tackle the root causes of illegal migration and overwhelm the country’s ability to absorb the refugees,” then-U.S. Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Manes wrote to Washington, D.C. in July, 2017.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon objected even more strenuously to ending the program for the three countries.

“It is our purpose to provide the best possible foreign policy and diplomatic advice,” Shannon wrote in a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “From my point of view that advice is obvious: extend TPS for the countries indicated.”

Some 400,000 migrants from Central America and Haiti have been granted temporary residence and working privileges in the U.S. The program’s protections were originally granted to refugees fleeing wars or natural disasters, including Hurricane Mitch in Honduras in 1999 and the earthquakes that ravaged El Salvador and Haiti in 2001 and 2010.

Since then, however, the program has received extensions under several administrations as U.S. leadership weighed the negative economic and political consequences of returning hundreds of thousands of refugees to countries ill-prepared to reabsorb them.

The administration recently abandoned its attempts to shutter the program following a protracted legal battle. Last month, acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and El Salvador’s foreign minister signed an agreement granting a one year reprieve to about 200,000 Salvadorans who reside in the U.S. under the program.

As part of the agreement, El Salvador has agreed to work with U.S. immigration authorities to ramp up its efforts to stanch the flow of migrants attempting to leave the violence-stricken country to cross the U.S. southern border illegally.

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