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Living in TPS Countries Reveals 'Temporary' Program's Weakness


I have spent two of the last three years living safely and happily in countries that currently have Temporary Protected Status: Nicaragua and El Salvador. And I have visited a third: Honduras. While these countries have their respective problems, continued TPS is by no means necessary.

Roy Beck has mentioned in his blog and has been quoted in the media saying that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a de facto amnesty because the last five countries that have received it before Haiti, still have it.

According to the USCIS website, “The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country's nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.“

Certainly, Haiti is experiencing such conditions, and under this description is deserving of TPS. However, this is an excellent time to reevaluate the program as it is currently employed. I can attest, through personal experience, that at least two of the now six countries that have TPS do not need it.

Nicaragua was first designated for TPS in January 1999 following Hurricane Mitch, and it has been extended until July 2010. Yet, tourism is Nicaragua’s second largest industry, having grown 70 percent in the last seven years – seven years during which it was supposedly unsafe for nationals to return. 60,000 U.S. citizens visit Nicaragua each year; in 2005, it had more tourists than Panama. In 2007, The LA Times described it as a “tropical paradise,” and did not include the words “still ravaged by the effects of Hurricane Mitch.”

El Salvador was designated for TPS in March of 2001 after a devastating earthquake, and has been extended until September 2010. El Salvador has rebuilt and should be proud of the progress it has made. I found it to be modern, convenient, and with wonderful roads. Tourism is also a major industry in El Salvador, attracting 1.27 million tourists last year to the nation of 7.2 million.

I have also vacationed in the East coast of Honduras, which has the same TPS designation as Nicaragua due to Hurricane Mitch, and it was gorgeous; truly a paradise, and truly safe for nationals to return to.

How can these countries handle the surge of tourists – in numbers greater than the number of nationals who have TPS in the United States - but not the return of its own nationals? From my own experience in these countries, and from the numbers on their tourism industries, it is clear to me that a decade of TPS is de facto amnesty. If we have such a program, this is not the way to implement it. This is not to say that these countries are free of poverty or other troubles, but they have outgrown their need for TPS, and we have abused the way we apply it. It is time for a change to this program so that it meets its described goals without becoming a de facto amnesty.

CAROLINE ESPINOSA formerly was a U.S. Senate Press Secretary and spokesperson for NumbersUSA

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