FACT CHECK: Did 200,000 Salvadorans With Temporary Protected Status Flee Natural Disaster?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

Several lawmakers and news outlets stated that nearly 200,000 Salvadorans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) originally fled El Salvador due to natural disasters.

“These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart in a statement.

“These are people who rebuilt their lives in the U.S. after fleeing an earthquake over a decade ago,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris.

“The Salvadorans in question came to the US after a 2001 earthquake,” reported Vox.

New York Gov. Andrew CuomoNewsweek and The Sacramento Bee also repeated the claim.

Verdict: False

TPS is only available to migrants already in the U.S. at the time of disaster or conflict in their home country, not those who left due to dangerous conditions. One study estimates that more than half of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries lived in the U.S. for years before the 2001 earthquakes that prompted protected status.

Fact Check:

TPS is a “blanket form of humanitarian relief” for those who do not meet the legal definition of refugee or asylee. The status does not provide a path to citizenship, but it temporarily protects beneficiaries from deportation and allows employment authorization.

The Trump administration announced Monday it will end TPS for El Salvador in September 2019. After El Salvador suffered two deadly earthquakes in 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush granted TPS to Salvadoran nationals who resided in the U.S. on Feb. 13, 2001 – the date of the second earthquake.

“They have not fled the earthquake, hurricane, etc. — they were simply lucky enough to be here when it happened,” noted Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, in a post.

TPS can be granted for six to 18 months, but the Bush and Obama administrations continued to renew the status for El Salvador through 2018. About 263,000 Salvadorans had TPS benefits as of October 2017, and the federal government expected 195,000 of those to re-register for TPS benefits.

The Center for Migration Studies (CMS) estimates that more than half of Salvadoran TPS beneficiaries have lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more. The average Salvadoran TPS beneficiary has lived in the U.S. for 21 years, four years longer than TPS for El Salvador has been in place.

It’s possible a number of Salvadoran TPS recipients came to the U.S. after the first earthquake in El Salvador in January 2001 but before the second earthquake in February 2001 when TPS designation began. Robert Warren, senior visiting fellow at CMS, told TheDCNF that the number is not significant.

TPS is awarded to migrants who entered the country illegally, remained in the country illegally after overstaying a visa or whose valid visas are expiring.

“All of them at some point became undocumented,” Warren told TheDCNF. “In fact, when we make estimates of the TPS population, they’re always a part of the overall 11 million undocumented population.”

When asked about the accuracy of his statement, Diaz-Balart told TheDCNF in an email, “I was communicating that Salvadorans already in the U.S. were attempting to protect themselves from the uncertainty of returning to a devastated country.”

Vox issued a correction after TheDCNF inquired about the claim: “A previous version of this article misdescribed Temporary Protected Status. It’s offered to immigrants already in the United States after a war or natural disaster in their home country, not to those fleeing disaster or conflict.”

Newsweek, The Sacramento Bee, Cuomo and Harris did not respond to requests for comment.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter