- Truncated Transnationalism, the Tenuousness of Temporary Protected Status, and Trump
For this JLAG retrospective on our article “Truncated Transnationalism” (Miyares, Wright, Mountz, Bailey, & Jonak, 2003), we focus on the current U.S. administration’s posture toward immigrants, especially Salvadorans, and immigration, especially the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. Our original JLAG article described the transnational spaces that conjoined places and communities in Northern New Jersey and El Salvador. We linked the experiences of daily living in this social field to the TPS legal status that many Salvadorans held. Through our collaborative research, an understanding emerged of Salvadorans’ social field as “truncated”: that is, a “transnational social field largely void of circulating transmigrants… an imagined community” (Miyares et al., 2003, p. 75). As we write in late 2018, this transnational social field has become more tenuous, mirroring the direction the program itself has taken under the Trump administration. We begin our short retrospective by summarizing our earlier reading of how TPS truncated Salvadoran transnationalism and then think through what has changed and what has not, foregrounding the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration.
Revisiting the situation of Salvadorans and TPS is timely. TPS came into existence as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. The program provided sanctuary in the U.S. for several groups, but notably offered the chance for political asylum to some 300,000 Salvadorans who had fled [End Page 210] civil war. Ironically, U.S. support of a vicious dictatorship by the Reagan administration, in which Bush served as Vice President, stoked much of the violence in El Salvador and produced the exodus of one sixth of El Salvador’s population. The memory of George H. W. Bush provides yet another significant context, notably his Republican convention speech in 1988 in which he called for a “kinder, gentler nation.” Fast-forward thirty years and the U.S. has become a less kind, less gentle place. Politics have become more vicious and the nation more divided, particularly around issues of immigration, sanctuary, and asylum—the stated concerns of the TPS program.
tps and truncated salvadoran transnationalism
Many Salvadorans with whom we spoke held a particular and, at the time, new form of residency: TPS. The vast majority of our respondents had applied for, but not received, political asylum. They were making a claim for protection in the U.S. and carried the burden of proving a well-founded fear of persecution if returned home, based on the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The U.S. offers TPS to designated groups of people who do not meet this definition to become asylees and for whom return home poses severe risks, such as continuing armed conflict, earthquake, flood, drought, epidemic, and other environmental disasters. Salvadorans became eligible for TPS following class action lawsuits and court decisions finding that the U.S. was discriminating against Salvadoran asylum seekers (Menjívar, 2000; Coutin, 2003). Under current rules, the Secretary of Home-land Security (DHS) may designate a country for TPS if doing so is consistent with U.S. national interests, if there is armed conflict in that country, if an environmental disaster or an epidemic has occurred there, or in case of other extraordinary and temporary conditions.
TPS positions recipients in particular ways. They are “documented” and visible to the authorities in the sense that they are not subject to de jure deportation provided they maintain their status by paying an appropriate fee, by not leaving the U.S., and by not being convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors. They can work and, therefore, send remittances. TPS beneficiaries pay taxes and contribute to Social Security and Medicare. Their status, however, provides no path toward permanent resident status and carries no rights to family reunification.
Our research traced the implications of living with TPS. Temporariness meant that Salvadorans felt suspended in space and time, unable to leave the U.S. to visit El Salvador, unable to reunite divided families, unable to move forward in education and careers. Our participants found this limbo extremely...