President Donald Trump has spent the first year and a half of his administration scaremongering about MS-13, calling gang members “animals,” railing against “alien minors” who come into the U.S. (“They’re not innocent,” he’s insisted), and generally using them as pawns to motivate racists to vote for Republicans in the midterm elections.
But while publicly elevating the relatively small criminal enterprise to public enemy number one, behind the scenes the administration ignored warnings that cancelling a valuable immigration program would actually only serve to strengthen MS-13 and other street gangs.
According to an internal State Department report obtained by CNN and published Wednesday, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke that the president’s decision to cancel the Temporary Protected Status for some 300,000 central American immigrants would “likely drive increased illegal migration to the United States and the growth of MS-13 and similar gangs.”
A section on Honduras warned: “Many of the deportees would be accompanied by their US-born children, many of whom would be vulnerable to recruitment by gangs.”
The letter and its supporting documents, which were issued in October, 2017, came just months before the Trump administration ended TPS protections for natives of Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador. The program had afforded them temporary residency in the United States because of widespread violence in their home countries.
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The documents were made public through a Freedom of Information Act request and given to CNN by the office of New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, who told the network in a statement:
This document release further confirms how the Trump Administration’s reckless anti-immigrant agenda jeopardizes our national security interests in Central America and the safety of TPS beneficiaries and their US citizen children.
The Trump administration has faced criticism over its handling of TPS in the past. This past May, documents obtained by the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild showed that Department of Homeland Security had specifically looked for negative information and statistics about Haitians living in the U.S. before making the decision to cancel their protected status.
Of course, none of this should come as too much of a surprise given President Trump’s ongoing racist obsession with purging immigrants from the United States. Still, that the president’s own bigotry overshadowed the reality of combating street gangs like MS-13 on the ground shows just how dedicated Trump is to fueling his anti-immigrant base—all consequences be damned.