House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-TX) recently introduced the controversial Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation Act to the House of Representatives. The “HALT Act” would suspend six discretionary elements of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including waivers of the 3- and 10-year bars to admission, humanitarian parole, cancelation of removal as a form of relief from removal proceedings, and, perhaps most alarming, Temporary Protected Status (TPS). A humanitarian initiative first introduced in the Immigration Act of 1990, the TPS program “[e]stablishes a legislative basis for allowing a group of persons temporary refuge in the United States” in situations where ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster (such as a flood, earthquake, or drought), or other extraordinary and temporary conditions prevent affected foreign nationals from safely returning to their home countries. During a period of TPS designation, eligible foreign nationals cannot be removed from the United States and cannot be detained by the Department of Homeland Security. Haiti was the most recent country added to the TPS designation list in response to the devastating, magnitude 7.0 earthquake.
In the two decades since TPS was first introduced, foreign nationals of numerous countries have benefitted from the program’s provisions during various periods of civil unrest and natural disaster. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services statistics compiled in a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, an estimated 338,550 foreign nationals currently benefit from the TPS program. TPS is nothing but a credit to the United States, affirming the commitment our country made in signing the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees not to return a foreign national to a country where his or her life or freedom would be in jeopardy.
While Rep. Smith’s intentions in having this Act end with the 2013 presidential inauguration are clear, what remains unclear is why he is focusing the immigration debate on depriving thousands of individuals of humanitarian benefits such as those offered by the TPS program. Perhaps Rep. Smith and the other co-sponsors of the HALT Act have failed to understand that the majority of these provisions are neither paths to a green card nor forms of “amnesty” for undocumented foreign nationals. In a July 23, 2011 letter to his colleagues, Rep. Smith contended that “Congress can always act by passing private bills to help individual aliens in the U.S. or outside the U.S. when we deem it wise, just and prudent” in response to “extraordinary humanitarian situations” that arise. However, had the HALT Act been in effect when the 2010 earthquake in Haiti occurred, for example, I very much doubt that the estimated 48,000 Haitian nationals who have been granted TPS since then would have been able to obtain private bills to help them avoid being returned to their devastated home country, where thousands have since died of cholera.
The HALT Act is just another in a long line of reprehensible attacks against the modern-day “bogeymen,” foreign nationals, most of whom are here for the same reasons our parents and grandparents immigrated to the United States: to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families. Though it is unlikely the bill will become law, it provides the public with a prime example of how politicians such as Rep. Smith, without taking any productive steps toward comprehensive immigration reform or stimulating the economy, are introducing legislation primarily as an attempt to make the Obama Administration appear soft on immigration enforcement leading up to the 2012 election. Furthermore, the HALT Act reflects a heartless and cold attitude inconsistent with America’s tradition of extending compassion to those in need. The public must now tell Rep. Smith that we need solutions for fixing our broken immigration system, not another unfeasible bill scapegoating foreign nationals.