Trump Punts on an Amnesty Policy You’ve Never Heard Of

By Mark Krikorian on November 7, 2017

National Review, November 7, 2017.

Last week's lesson in "Stupid Immigration Policies You've Never Heard Of" was about the Diversity Visa Lottery, which gives 50,000 green cards each year to random people from around the world, disproportionately from countries that produce more than their share of terrorists, regardless of their skills or education.

This week's subject is Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, under which the executive can give work permits to illegal aliens it doesn't want to deport because of natural disaster or civil strife in their native lands. As is so frequently the case in immigration policy, words don't mean what you think they mean; in this case, "temporary" really means "permanent." As far as I can tell, not a single foreigner has been made to go home because his "temporary" status has expired.

This is mainly because most grants of TPS never actually expire — they are almost all simply renewed every 18 months, long after the emergency that sparked the grant has passed.

The Trump administration is slowly, gingerly trying to change that. Late Monday it announced an eventual end (in January 2019) of TPS for a handful of Nicaraguan illegal immigrants who were given work permits in 1999 because of a hurricane. This was an easy call given the small number of people involved; the most recent TPS renewal for these Nicaraguans estimated that only about 2,550 benefited from this amnesty.

But the administration punted on the larger of yesterday's two announcements, regarding about 60,000 Honduran illegal aliens granted TPS work permits because of the same hurricane. When the Honduran TPS was renewed last year, I wrote in National Review about the increasingly fanciful rationales offered for continuing it, including "a regional coffee rust epidemic." DHS yesterday decided not to decide, thus automatically extending TPS for the Hondurans for six months (it was set to expire in early January, so will continue till early July).

The thinking here is twofold. First, and unspoken, is that this postpones the decision until a new secretary is sworn in (the nominee, Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly's deputy, has her nomination hearing tomorrow). But perhaps as important, the DHS announcement "calls on Congress to enact a permanent solution for this inherently temporary program," in effect doing the same thing as with the DACA amnesty — giving Congress a deadline to get it to step up and fulfill its Article I responsibilities.

But later this month, another deadline will arrive that the administration will not be able to avoid. The grants of TPS to various Central American illegal immigrants (including the largest group, Salvadorans, whose fate will have to be decided in January) are coming up for renewal for the first time under Trump's management. So short-term extensions are plausible as a sort of warning to Congress and to the illegal aliens themselves that change is coming.

But the administration already did this for another group of TPS beneficiaries, about 46,000 Haitians lucky enough to be in the U.S. during the 2010 earthquake. John Kelly, when he was still DHS secretary, announced a six-month pack-your-bags-and-get-a-passport extension earlier this year. (The Haitians' work permits will expire January 22, but notice of changes needs to be made 60 days in advance, so an announcement will come in the next two weeks.)

The message in May was clear that this would be the final renewal: "This six-month extension should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients."

Many Haitian illegal aliens with TPS work permits took Kelly at his word and streamed into Quebec, figuring (correctly) that Canada under Boy Trudeau is a soft touch when it comes to immigration.

Having drawn this red line, however, if the administration later this month does not announce the termination of TPS for Haitians, its credibility will be shot. And not just on immigration — strength of will, or lack thereof, in one area sends a message to political actors involved in other areas about an administration's credibility. Reagan's firing of the air-traffic controllers and Obama's failure to back up his red-line comment in Syria are illustrative in this regard.

The period between now and November 22, when the Haiti decision needs to be made, is a time for choosing for this administration — and the choice will have consequences for the rest of President Trump's time in office.