The Trump administration has served notice on Haitians who have received the benefit of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that they should be preparing to return to Haiti. They have had TPS status since 2010 when a major hurricane caused significant destruction on the country. Since then, the country has received substantial aid from the United States and other countries. The emergency conditions have long passed. So, if the “T” is TPS is meaningful, the temporary protection from deportation is no longer appropriate.

But, was TPS ever appropriate for some of the beneficiaries? The genesis of TPS was an effort to craft an immigration status for foreigners in the United States when civil unrest or natural disaster made it temporarily dangerous for foreigners to return to their homes. That made sense for persons who wanted to return but were temporarily deterred from doing so because of conditions in their home country. Those foreigners could be here as students or on a business trip or even as tourists, for example. And, it seemed likely that they would return home on their own as soon as conditions allowed. But, if they were in the country illegally, they presumably had no intention of traveling home as soon as conditions stabilized, so TPS made no sense for them. Nevertheless, they were included in the program.

Part of the TPS benefit is the receipt of a Social Security number, allowing legal employment. For illegal residents who were already working with fake ID, this was a dream come true. It has created a situation in which some TPS beneficiaries, such as those from Central America, who have been covered by TPS status for 16 to 18 years, have established eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits that they would not have qualified for if they had not received the TPS benefit.

The inappropriate conferral of TPS benefits for the Haitians and Central Americans and others illegally residing here has remained out of the limelight because there has been little pressure to cancel or limit it. Endless extensions of TPS also developed a natural constituency pushing for its repeated renewal, including pressure from the countries that would have to admit their nationals if they were forced to return home.

With the spotlight now on the TPS issue because of the impending end of that status for the Haitians, it can be hoped that the public, the administration, and Congress will recognize the absurdity of giving legal work rights to persons living here illegally.