As lawmakers try to find a legislative solution to keep immigrant families together at the U.S.-Mexico border, an even bigger family separation challenge looms next year when thousands of parents with temporary residency status will face deportation and separation from their U.S.-born children.
The Trump administration has said it will terminate so-called Temporary Protected Status for nearly 60,000 Haitians in July 2019, more than 262,000 Salvadorans in September 2019 and 57,000 Hondurans in January 2020.
More than 273,000 U.S. born children have a parent with TPS from these countries, according to a report from the Center for Migration Studies, a think tank.
Democrats are trying to use those coming deadlines — when the families facing deportation must decide if they will leave with or without their U.S. born children — to pressure congressional Republicans to act on legislation to protect TPS recipients from that Hobson's choice.
"We need to protect families, these TPS recipients came to the U.S. legally," Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., who cosponsored a bill that would protect TPS recipients from deportation. “We have families being taken apart by the ridiculous enforcement of our laws that don't prioritize the way they should be."
For weeks, Republicans and Democrats have been scrambling to pass a bill that would keep immigrant families together at the border, following President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy that separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents.
Top Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill to keep families together at the border and has 48 cosponsors.
Thirty-nine Senate Republicans are backing a bill by Thom Tillis of North Carolina that would require undocumented immigrant families to be kept together in government detention rather than being released after 20 days.
Still, a bill that includes provisions to protect TPS recipients from deportation is unlikely to pass, according to Republicans including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“If we are going to have a bill that has a reasonable chance of passing it is going to be a narrow bill,” said Cruz, who introduced his own measure without TPS protection and which has 21 Republican co-sponsors. “If it becomes a Christmas tree for each side's preferred outcomes, then I think it quickly becomes the bill that cannot garner 60 votes.”
Other Republicans say they want to address family separations at the border first and TPS later.
“It's just such a mess,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who co-sponsored Tillis' bill, said. “Right now we need to focus on a small bit of the problem and try to fix that.”
Congress created the Temporary Protected Status designation to shield immigrants who came to the United States because their countries were ravaged by war or natural disasters. TPS allows them to live in the United States without fear of deportation — at least while the TPS status is in place.
More than 300,000 people with TPS protections live in the United States from 10 countries including Nepal, Nicaragua, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Sudan. Over the past few months, the Trump administration has terminated other TPS designations including for Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan.
TPS beneficiaries have been living in the U.S. since as early as 1999. Honduras was first granted the status, following the 1998 earthquake. Later on, El Salvador was designated after an earthquake struck the country in 2001. Haiti was designated after the 2010 earthquake
Advocacy groups assailed DHS’s decision to terminate these TPS programs.
Center for Migration Studies Executive Director Donald M. Kerwin Jr. said that TPS recipients with young U.S. born children will have just two options when their status expires: Go back to their native country or stay in the U.S. and live in the shadows.
“None of these options would be positive,” he said. “They are playing politics with people’s lives and hurting not just them but they’re families and communities.” Watch: Thousands March in DC to Protest Family Separation