Why people come to the US from President Trump’s ‘shithole’ countries

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When Donald Trump lashed out at people coming to the US from “shithole countries,” it was a reaction to a plan to cut the number of people entering the country through the visa lottery program.

According to CNN sources, at a closed-door meeting in the Oval Office, lawmakers brought a proposal to reduce the number by half, with the rest going to underrepresented countries in Africa and nations with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Trump appears to have glossed over the fundamental humanitarian purpose of TPS, which is granted to individuals from countries where conditions such as war, natural disasters or political strife prevent citizens from returning safely.

While under TPS designation, nationals cannot be removed from the US and can work and travel in the country. However, it does not lead to lawful permanent resident status and people under TPS can be removed if the designation is lifted.

Jonathan Katz, author of “The Big Truck That Went By” on the failure of disaster relief efforts in Haiti, said Trump’s remarks and those who have defended them ignore both the histories of these countries and US involvement in them.

“You’d have to know nothing about WHY Haiti is poor (or El Salvador in kind), and WHY the United States (and Norway) are wealthy,” Katz said in a widely-shared Twitter thread.

“But far worse than that, you’d have to not even be interested in asking the question.”

Haiti
GDP: $8.02 billion (2016)
Population: 10.8 million (2016)
Amount receiving in US aid: $251 million (2017)
Number of people with TPS: About 58,700
TPS designation: January 2010 (ends July 2019)

Haiti has been under TPS since a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island nation in January 2010, killing up to 300,000 people and displacing more than a million. Relief efforts in the wake of that disaster, led by US organizations, were highly criticized and often ineffective.

Though plans to remove the country from TPS were announced last year, as of September 2017, almost 40,000 people remained displaced, living in temporary shelters and camps on the outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

According to the World Bank, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas, with almost 60% of the country living under the national poverty line of $2.41 per day.

The US has a long history of military and political intervention in Haiti.

El Salvador
GDP: $26.8 billion
Population: 6.3 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $105 million
Number of people with TPS: About 263,000
TPS designation: March 2001 (ends September 2019)

El Salvador was granted TPS in 2001 following a massive 7.7-magnitude earthquake, the worst to hit the country in a decade, killing hundreds of people and damaging more than 220,000 houses.

After nearly 17 years, the “original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist,” the US Department of Homeland Services said this week, announcing that TPS would be removed by September 2019.

It added that the US government has repatriated more than 39,000 Salvadorans in the last two years, “demonstrating that the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.”

The US backed El Salvador’s right-wing government in a 12-year civil war against leftist guerillas which left 75,000 people dead between 1979 and 1992.

Honduras
GDP: $21.5 billion
Population: 9.1 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $150 million
Number of people with TPS: About 86,200
TPS designation: January 1999

Hurricane Mitch, a Category 5 storm, devastated Honduras in October 1998, killing about 11,000 people across Central America.

In addition to the ongoing affects of that storm and others since — most recently Hurricane Nate — Honduras also “faces the highest level of economic inequality in Latin America” as well as “rampant crime and violence,” according to the World Bank. The homicide rate in Honduras is among the worst in the world, at 59 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016.

The country also faces an unstable political environment: the US endorsed a coup in 2009 which ousted the nation’s democratically elected President, and last year Washington recognized the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernandez despite electoral irregularities and mass protests.

Nepal
GDP: $21.1 billion
Population: 29 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $138 million
Number of people with TPS: About 13,000
TPS designation: June 2015

Nepal’s designation also stems from an earthquake, a 7.8-magnitude tremor which struck near the country’s capital, Kathmandu, in early 2015, killing more than 8,000 people and damaging millions of homes.

Around 3% of the country was pushed into poverty as a direct result of the earthquake, the World Bank said, with total reconstruction costs as high as $6.7 billion.

While conditions in the country have improved, as of 2016, there was still a “substantial, but temporary, disruption of living conditions,” according to DHS.

However, that assessment came before major flooding late last year affecting more than a third of the country, which the World Bank said “caused severe disruption and damage, especially in the southern plains” and predicted would hamper economic growth.

Nicaragua
GDP: $13.2 billion
Population: 6.1 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $26 million
Number of people with TPS: About 5,300
TPS designation: January 1999 (ends January 2019)

Designated for the same reason as Honduras, Nicaragua has also suffered greatly from natural disasters in recent years.

However, a DHS report in November found “it is no longer the case that Nicaragua is unable, temporarily, to handle adequately the return of nationals of Nicaragua.”

“Nicaragua has stood out for maintaining growth levels above the average for Latin America and the Caribbean,” according to the World Bank, though it warned poverty and inequality levels remain high.

During the Reagan administration, the US funneled money and arms to right-wing rebel groups known as the Contras, which fought a brutal civil war against the Nicaraguan government until 1990. In 1986, the International Court of Justice ruled the US had violated international law.

Somalia
GDP: $6.2 billion
Population: 14.3 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $416 million
Number of people with TPS: About 500
TPS designation: September 1991

Somalia was designated for TPS after the country descended into civil war after dictator Siad Barre’s ouster in 1991. Nearing three decades of conflict, much of the country’s governance structure, economic infrastructure, and institutions have been destroyed.

“The security situation in Somalia remains fragile and volatile,” according to DHS. The agency said Somalis couldn’t safely return to the country: “Somalia continues to experience a complex protracted emergency that is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”

The US is heavily involved militarily in Somalia, conducting more than 30 air strikes in the country in 2017 against militant groups al Shabaab and ISIS which killed up to 230 people, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

South Sudan
GDP: $9.01 billion (2015)
Population: 12.2 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $813 million
Number of people with TPS: About 50
TPS designation: November 2011

South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, after a vote was promised in a 2005 peace deal which aimed to put a halt to decades of violence in the country.

However, tensions between north and south remained long past the vote, and in 2013 South Sudan was plunged into civil war, leaving hundreds dead and displacing more than a million people. Last year, as a result of the conflict, many parts of the country were suffering from famine, as a huge UN operation attempted to keep the peace.

“The renewed conflict in South Sudan is undermining development gains achieved since independence and worsened the humanitarian situation,” according to the World Bank. “Without conflict resolution and a framework for peace and security, the country’s longer-term development and prosperity are threatened.”

Sudan
GDP: $95.5 billion
Population: 39.5 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $151 million
Number of people with TPS: About 1,000
TPS designation: November 1997 (ends November 2018)

Sudan was designated for TPS based on the “ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions.” Sudan has been beset by conflicts, most notably the Darfur conflict, which began around 2003 when several rebel groups took up arms against the government in Khartoum.

The situation in Sudan has improved in recent years, but concerns persist about its stability and human rights. However, in September, DHS said nationals of Sudan could now return “without posing a serious threat to their personal safety.”

Syria
GDP: —
Population: 18.4 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $729 million
Number of people with TPS: About 6,200
TPS designation: March 2012

Syria has been designated for TPS since 2012, almost a year after civil war broke out in the country in the wake of the Arab Spring. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict, according to the UN, with millions more displaced.

“Violent conflict and the deteriorating humanitarian crisis continue to pose significant risk throughout Syria,” DHS said in 2016.

The US has intervened heavily in the war since its earliest days, providing funding for anti-government rebels and groups fighting ISIS and other Islamist militant organizations. US Special Operations Forces, Marines and Army Rangers are on the ground in Syria, and US planes have conducted more than 8,700 airstrikes in the country since 2014, according to monitoring group AirWars.

Yemen
GDP: $27.3 billion
Population: 27.5 million
Amount receiving in US aid: $573 million
Number of people with TPS: About 800
TPS designation: September 2015

Yemen received TPS designation in September 2015 following the outbreak of civil war when Houthi rebels drove out the US-backed (non-democratically elected) President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi.

Since then, the crisis has escalated into a multi-sided war leaving at least 10,000 dead, according to the United Nations, with millions more displaced and at risk of famine and cholera.

Both the US and its major ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, have been heavily involved in the war, conducting air strikes and providing assistance to anti-Houthi forces. In December, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick said he was “deeply disturbed” by mounting civilian casualties in Yemen and denounced the “complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led Coalition, continue to show in this absurd war.”

CNN’s Madison Park, Eli Watkins and Abby Phillip contributed reporting. 

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