Like most “emergency” programs set up by government, the benefits of gaining “Temporary Protected Status,” or TPS, as a refugee do not expire when the emergency has passed. In government jargon, “temporary” can be 20 years – or forever.

The federal government has no system for tracking people previously awarded TPS since its inception in 1990. Thus, there is no way of knowing the total number of individuals now residing in the United States who first arrived under the TPS program, nor is there any reliable data on what percentage of TPS refugees eventually return home. But the nation’s experience with the first decade of the program led the Center for Immigration Studies to conclude, “In the real world, there is nothing as permanent as a temporary refugee.”

Within hours of the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, President Obama announced the awarding of Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the United States – people here illegally before the earthquake, a number variously estimated at 100,000 to 200,000. Indeed, over the past 20 years, most TPS recipients were people already in the county, not people fleeing a disaster.

Thus, while the program is largely defended on the humanitarian grounds of offering temporary safety to genuine refugees, it is undeniable that historically, the main function of the TPS program has been to protect illegal aliens – people already here and thus not directly affected by any natural disaster – from the threat of deportation.

America has welcomed waves of authentic political refugees for over half a century. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cuba, Vietnam, Liberia, Kosovo and other nations have been granted asylum, but always by specific legislation targeted to a specific political crisis.

The creation of the TPS program in 1990 was sold to Congress and the American people as a way to “regularize” and streamline the handling of a new kind of refugee. By 1990 we had over 190,000 refugees from El Salvador who had been given various types of protected status because of a prolonged civil war. So, at that time, there was a “good government” argument for creating a legal mechanism for accommodating such refugees.

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Nonetheless, this protection has always been justified as a “temporary measure,” not as an expansion of our immigration program for permanent residents. By law, these “temporary refugees” are expected to return home when the emergency passes. Yet, the “emergency” that justified the TPS status never ends. Why is that?

The first TPS status was awarded to Salvadorans in March of 2000 based on a series of severe earthquakes. Since that date, TPS for 190,000 Salvadoran refugees has been extended five times.

The root problem is a contradiction built into the TPS program. The primary motivation for TPS is said to be “humanitarian,” to offer safety and temporary shelter, medical aid, etc., to desperate people afflicted by circumstances beyond their control. But once they are on American soil, other motivations and considerations come into play. No organized lobby will try to send people back to a country still struggling against poverty, disease and corruption, but there will be strong voices who want these refugees to stay and become citizens with a vote.

Thus, beginning in the 1990s and continuing today, congressmen in Florida, both Republican and Democrat, always support one more extension of protected status for refugees from Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua and other nations. These refugees and their children are now constituents of those congressmen.

Unfortunately, there are often unforeseen consequences for our unrestrained humanitarian gestures.

Thousands of Salvadorans who fled that country in the 1980s and ’90s settled in Southern California. Caught between two cultures, Salvadoran youth in Los Angeles found themselves victimized by youth Hispanic and Asian gangs. So, they formed their own Salvadoran gang, the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which soon became the most vicious and notorious youth gang in America. According to the FBI, MS-13 operates in at least 12 states and has over 50,000 members.

Haiti is known to have dozens of violent gangs, many of which are now disrupting and intimidating relief efforts for earthquake victims. Members of those gangs who had successfully crossed illegally into the U.S. prior to Jan. 12 are now protected from deportation and will no doubt become permanent residents of the U.S. in due course. What criminal would go home to Haiti once he had certain-to-be-renewed TPS status in Atlanta, Chicago or New Orleans? And after the next amnesty, they will be citizens.

Americans are coming to realize that our nation’s immigration policies and refugee programs are based on lies, fantasies and politically expedient half-truths – and not on the best interests of the United States. TPS is one of those lies. “Temporary refugees” never go home, because the “emergency” never passes, and the lobby for new amnesties never rests.

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