In the last installment of Immigration 101 I finished up my series on political asylum and refugees. Those two statuses were created to protect people who were persecuted in their homelands. But, it is important to point out, many people flee terrible conditions of war and violence but do not fit the definition of a “refugee” or an “asylee”. To get refugee status or asylum a person has to show that he has been or has a well-founded fear that he will be persecuted in his homeland because of his race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion. Simply being afraid of being killed in warfare is not good enough. And, frankly, fear of being killed in war is one of the main causes of people fleeing their homelands.
During the 1980s many Salvadorans were wrongly denied political asylum. They had been persecuted in their country and they were excluded from asylum for political reasons. But, as someone who represented many hundreds of such refugees, I also knew that in addition to these wrongfully denied asylum seekers, there were many thousands of Salvadorans who had entered the United States not to escape persecution, but simply because the war had made their lives unlivable.
These war refugees may not have been politically active, but they were the most common victims of violence during armed confrontations between the guerrillas and army in their rural villages. When fighting broke out, they were the ones caught in the crossfire.
During the late 1980s, the various Central American refugee organizations, working with the National Immigration Forum, AILA and other national groups approached Congressman Joe Moakley and Senator Dennis DeConcinni to address the need for protection for these displaced people. Together they crafted legislation which would give temporary protection to people fleeing wars and natural disasters. Called Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, the status avoided some of the political pitfalls of the asylum system and made it easier for the United States to grant blanket protections to a whole group of endangered people for a short time period.
For an individual to receive TPS protection, the Secretary of Homeland Security must designate people from a country to be in need of protection. If a country is not designated, then there is no way for a person from that country to apply for TPS. So, while a country may have a war going on in it, until that country is designated, no one from it can get TPS.
Once a country is designated for TPS, people from that country already living in the U.S., whether legally or illegally may apply for Temporary Protected Status. The status will generally be granted unless the person has more than one misdemeanor or any felony convictions. Once granted, the person will be given authorization to live and work in the United States for twelve to eighteen months. The time limit is set by the Department of Homeland Security in advance.
TPS does not give the recipient the ability to travel freely outside the United States, nor is it a “first step” to permanent status. It is simply a temporary humanitarian protection.
At the end of the TPS period, the Department of Homeland Security may extend the period for the whole group of people from the designated country, or end the protection. Typically, at the end of the TPS program for a country, people who had temporary protection will be given time to leave the United States before further action is taken against them.
TPS is an important, but ultimately temporary relief for people facing deportation.
Immigration 101 is a comprehensive series on American immigration law for the layperson. This series tracks my course on immigration law at Hofstra Law School and answers many of your questions about immigration policy.