President Barack Obama doesn't have to continue the widely-criticized practice of detaining and deporting Central American refugees en masse.
In fact, according to a new report from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), Obama has the legal authority—right now—to grant temporary protection to more than 750,000 undocumented people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who are currently living in the United States seeking refuge from violence.
Entitled, "Relief Not Raids," the report is a direct nod to the expansion of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) proposed by human rights groups and lawmakers, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Senator Bernie Sanders.
TPS provides humanitarian protection and short-term relief from deportation for people whose repatriation would put them in danger.
"Based on the individualized conditions within each country, the Administration has the legal authority to designate El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras for Temporary Protected Status because of the existence of 'extraordinary and temporary conditions' and de facto 'armed conflicts,'" writes Jose Magaña-Salgado, immigration policy attorney at ILRC and author of the report.
The report calculates that designating TPS for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras "would make approximately 1.2 million (1,226,044) additional individuals potentially eligible for Temporary Protected Status, though only 757,422 (62%) would ultimately obtain this status because of various eligibility criteria and application requirements."
Failure to extend this protection could be deadly.
"According to a comprehensive study conducted by social scientist Elizabeth Kennedy at San Diego State University, between January 2014 and September 2015, at least 83 nationals deported to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were reported to have been subsequently murdered," Magaña-Salgado notes.
In what are now infamously referred to as the "holiday raids," the Obama administration kicked off the New Year by detaining at least 121 people from predominantly Central American countries, including young children. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson vigorously defended the raids, even amid reports that some of those swept up were denied the most basic due process.
The raids and deportation proceedings have created a climate of fear and terror among immigrant and refugee communities, many of whom are fleeing drug wars, poverty, and violence worsened by U.S. policies.
"Unprecedented violence in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has caused a humanitarian crisis that has forced migrants from those countries seek refuge in the United States," said Bill Hing, ILRC founder. "Unfortunately, our nation's response of detention and prioritizing the removal of unaccompanied children and mothers with children has resulted in a human rights crisis of our own making."
"To reverse the path toward an indignity that our nation will come to regret," Hing continued, "the Obama Administration should grant Temporary Protected Status to those who have fled the violence."