Don’t get me wrong – I am not for deporting anyone to Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone in the next few months.
That would put a couple dozen Africans at some avoidable risk, and would give the deportation program – generally – a black eye. (That's an angle few discuss.)
But that does not excuse what the Obama administration has announced – at a sneaky time – regarding the creation of Temporary Protected Status for all nationals of those three countries. It is much more sweeping than it needs to be. If a kid in costume comes to the door on Halloween you give him a candy bar, you do not empty a bushel basket full of bonbons over his head.
Let me elaborate.
First, the substance: TPS is a nation-specific temporary – but always renewed – legal status which applies, initially, for 18 months. All nationals of the country involved who are in the U.S. are granted freedom from deportation and work authorization because of a disaster in the homeland (it was an earthquake a few years ago in Haiti; it is currently the Ebola outbreak in the three African nations.) Many other benefits flow for TPS beneficiaries.
Second, the timing. Granting TPS is always controversial because it takes a select group of aliens (some illegals, some legals) and gives them special privileges, so it usually creates some criticism. This time it was announced by the Department of Homeland Security just hours before the president was scheduled to announce a much broader, and much more extensive amnesty for millions of illegal aliens. The timing was designed to use the broader story to hide the smaller one.
Third, the bushel basket full of bonbons. The stated rationale for TPS is always that it would be unfair to force someone from the afflicted nation to go home under the current disaster conditions. But TPS is such a sweeping program that it provides all sorts of goodies to aliens who are in no danger of being deported.
Suppose you are an F-1 student in your first year of university and you are not comfortable there and do not like the area where you are studying. (Suppose you are from Liberia and are attending SUNY/Buffalo, for instance.) You are in absolutely no danger of being sent home anytime, but since you qualify for TPS you can quit school and move to Florida and get a job there.
Suppose you are here on a fiance’s visa (K-1) and you don’t want to marry the person who arranged for the visa; routinely you would have to go home, but if you are from one of these three countries, and thus qualify for TPS, you can just call the whole thing off and be as free as a bird.
Meanwhile, it is useful to bear in mind that while thousands will probably come forward for TPS from these three nations, the number of people in danger of being deported back to those countries is tiny. In the latest Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (for 2012) we see (table 41) these totals for aliens removed:
- Guinea 16
Sierra Leone 17
What the government should have done, given that the terrible Ebola breakout will probably be over in six months or a year, would be to freeze immigration matters for six months. No deportations during that time, and automatic extensions of visa status for those whose visas are expiring during that period. No one would be forced to return to an unhealthy location, and no one would get a bunch of extra benefits because of the health problems back home. If the Ebola problem persists beyond the six months, then these temporary measures could be renewed as well.
Instead, as we have frequently noted on these pages, TPS lingers year after year, decade after decade, and acts as a permanent amnesty for some aliens who happened to be in this country when something nasty happened back home.
Footnote: Many years ago when Liberia was having a revolution, the lucky Liberians who were in this country at the time were beneficiaries of a similar short-term (but near-permanent) amnesty program called Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). The governments announcement of the new program is forced to comment on how the DED program interacts with TPS, and soon the government will have to untangle how DED benefits and TPS benefits interact with whatever broader program the president is announcing. Some aliens from Liberia will soon have a whole menu of migration benefits to choose from.