No Alien Left Behind

By Mark Krikorian on May 29, 2007

National Review Online, May 29, 2007

Our editors here at National Review Online pointed out last week that "It's Worse Than You Think" with regard to the Senate's preposterous amnesty bill. They were addressing specifically the fact that the Senate bill would immediately give probationary amnesty to virtually all illegal aliens, and that the much-touted enforcement "triggers" are therefore a sham, since legalization will already have taken place. What's more, if the benchmarks (more miles of fencing, additional border-patrol agents, etc.) are not met, the probationary status would likely continue indefinitely, since there is no expiration date in the bill.

The editorial asks with regard to the possible failure to meet the triggers: "Does anyone really believe that the government will, at that point, make all of the illegal immigrants who have gotten "probationary" legal status illegal again?" Common sense would suggest the answer is "no," which is what the editors were getting at. But it's actually worse than that. We don't need to guess what will happen - we already know.

This kind of provisional or temporary immigration status is routinely offered under the rubric of "Temporary Protected Status." Known as TPS, this is a nominally time-limited status granted to groups of illegal aliens, or visitors here on visas about to expire, because of natural disaster or civil unrest back home. They don't qualify as real refugees because they don't face the prospect of persecution, but we're also unwilling to deport them to an unstable situation.

Despite the government's protestations of temporariness, no one is ever made to leave; most grants of TPS are renewed year after year until everyone gets a green card.

This is not some tiny asterisk in immigration policy; hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens have benefited from TPS and its antecedents, most of them Central American, but with smaller groups of people from all over the world also getting in on the act. Although the formal mechanism for granting Temporary Protected Status was created by the 1990 Immigration Act, that was really just an example of Congress "bowing to reality," in Michael Chertoff's evocative phrase - the executive branch had been inventing ways of not enforcing immigration law for decades, using Orwellian formulations like "Extended Voluntary Departure" or "Deferred Enforced Departure." (Several years ago I traced the development of this insidious practice; see here.)

The government's site says "TPS does not lead to permanent resident status," and strictly speaking, that is correct; the attorney general can terminate it, at which point the people in question revert to their original status - i.e., in most cases go back to being illegal aliens. But in practice, TPS is renewed as many times as necessary to ensure that no one is deported. Only in the smallest of cases, involving a few dozen or at most a few hundred people, has this "temporary" status actually been ended without everyone getting a green card, and as far as I know, no one has ever been made to leave because they lost TPS.

Earlier this month, the "temporary" status of 230,000 Salvadorans, 78,000 Hondurans and 4,000 Nicaraguans was extended by another 18 months - the Salvadorans have had this "temporary" status for six years, and the Hondurans and Nicaraguans for eight years. The explanation for the extension offered by Emilio Gonzalez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is a gem: "Although Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador have made significant progress in their recovery and rebuilding efforts, each country continues to face social and economic challenges in their efforts to restore their nations to normalcy. This 18-month extension reflects the United States' commitment to continue assisting our Central American neighbors on their road to recovery." It's not obvious what "normalcy" is supposed to mean in this context, since all three countries remain in their normal state of being hapless third-world kleptocracies, but the point is clear - the Bush administration will not make these illegal aliens go home, no matter what.

The most extreme case is that of several thousand Liberians, who received "temporary" status in 1991 and had it renewed regularly ever since. Their TPS is set to expire in October - definitely, for sure, this time, though that's what Janet Reno said nearly ten years ago.

Our experience with TPS leads to only one possible conclusion: Once an illegal alien gets legal status, no matter how "temporary," he's here for good. Sponsors of the Senate's amnesty bill know this full well.

Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.