Documents Show Homeland Security Ignored Government Experts in Ending TPS

(Photo/Creative Commons/Fibonacci Blue)

Back in April, Long Island Wins reported on the Trump administration documents that showed that terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti contradicted internal reports supporting extension of the program.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that show the same process of distortion was at work in the termination of TPS for people from Sudan.

Since Trump took office, his administration announced the end of TPS for people from El Salvador, Honduras, Haiti, Sudan, Nicaragua, and Nepal, essentially gutting the protection program entirely. In each case, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that the conditions were now safe enough in the designated countries for their citizens to return. In the case of Sudan, the DHS published a notice in the Federal Register on October 11, 2017 that said:

DHS and the Department of State (DOS) have reviewed the conditions in Sudan. Based on this review and consultation, the Secretary has determined that conditions in Sudan have sufficiently improved for TPS purposes…The ongoing armed conflict no longer prevents the return of nationals of Sudan to all regions of Sudan without posing a serious threat to their personal safety. Further, extraordinary and temporary conditions within Sudan no longer prevent nationals from returning in safety to all regions of Sudan…

The newly released internal documents reveal that the government experts who review conditions in that country disagreed strongly. For example, Mandi Tuttle, an African Policy Analyst at the Defense Department wrote to the DHS that “Insurgents conducted a significant military offensive as recently as this spring in Darfur.” Tuttle wrote that the DHS claim of improved conditions in Sudan were not “factually accurate.”

The Washington Post cites an email from a top DHS staffer who later became the head of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) which identified the conflict in the process. According to the Post:

Some of the emails appear to depict staffers at DHS struggling to make a coherent case to end the protections. In one email, senior DHS official L. Francis Cissna told staffers the agency’s report recommending termination for Sudan “indicates that it remains unsafe for individuals to return” and that “termination does not appear to be warranted.” Then, he notes, the report goes on to recommend termination anyway — the finding Cissna sought. “The memo reads like one person who strongly supports extending TPS for Sudan wrote everything up to the recommendation section, and then someone who opposes extension snuck up behind the first guy, clubbed him over the head, pushed his senseless body out of the way, and finished the memo,” wrote Cissna, who was sworn in as director of CIS six weeks later. “Am I missing something?”

The ACLU filed a lawsuit in March challenging the “departure from decades of consistent interpretation and corresponding practice” in terminating the TPS protections. This “departure” from precedent includes the sidetracking of State Department and Defense Department expert analyses of humanitarian conditions in the home country of the returnees.

TPS was designed to protect vulnerable people who cannot return to their countries because of war, civil disorder, or natural disaster. Countries have been designated for TPS by both Democratic and Republican presidents. In the past, termination of a TPS designation has typically reflected a consensus within the relevant agencies that a termination would not create a humanitarian crisis, and that returnees would not be in danger.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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