The Trump administration put "electoral calculations" over national security and immigrants' safety when it pushed to end a longstanding program protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants despite warnings from career diplomats and State Department officials, according to an investigation commissioned by Senate Democrats.
The administration ignored recommendations to phase out the Temporary Protected Status program, or TPS, in a few years and instead decided to accelerate immigrants' departures so they wouldn't be taking place around the 2020 re-election campaign, according to memos.
TPS allows immigrants in the country, including those who arrived or stayed illegally, to remain and work in the U.S. if their home countries are experiencing catastrophic events such as natural disasters or wars. Currently, 400,000 people have TPS.
According to the report, dozens of internal State Department memos and diplomatic communications obtained by the Democrats' investigators show that senior officials repeatedly warned former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that eliminating TPS for those immigrants would seriously destabilize the three countries and bring "negative consequences for U.S. national security" by triggering "increased irregular migration."
The officials advised Tillerson to phase out temporary protections for Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian immigrants over a period of three years, according to the report on the investigation.
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Instead, Tillerson and staff from his Office of Policy Planning advocated for a rapid TPS termination because the timeline that senior officials were recommending would mean the protected status would end for thousands of people "directly in the middle of the 2020 election cycle,’’ according to an Oct. 26, 2017, memorandum referenced in the report.
BREAKING: Released new report with 140 pages of State Dept docs detailing how the Trump Admin played politics with #TPS. https://t.co/4otATGZFI9
"In making such an overt reference to the 2020 presidential race, senior Trump administration appointees reporting directly to the Secretary of State revealed that their recommendation to end TPS more quickly was based on political, not policy reasons," investigators concluded in the report. "This recommendation effectively prioritized electoral calculations over considerations of U.S. national security, not to mention the personal safety of nearly 400,000 TPS recipients and their estimated 273,000 American children."
Menendez said in a statement that such findings are part of a pattern "we have become all too familiar with." The senator sent a letter to the State Department inspector general asking for an investigation.
Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a press conference Thursday that "the administration was willing to play political games with our national security and the safety of TPS recipients and their American children.”
Senior diplomats have repeatedly cautioned that TPS holders from El Salvador and Honduras would face alarming levels of criminal violence and unstable social conditions in their countries of origin if they are forced to return.
Officials have pointed out that an estimated 273,200 children, who are U.S. citizens, would be exposed to epidemic levels of violence if they go to their parents' home countries and be more vulnerable to recruitment by gangs like MS-13.