250,000 earthquake refugees from El Salvador and Haiti will have to leave the United States

By David Jacobson, Temblor

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The M=7.7 January 13, 2001 earthquake in El Salvador killed over 900 people and damaged or destroyed hundreds of thousands of buildings. Following the earthquakes, Salvadorans were allowed to come to the U.S. Now, they will be forced to return to El Salvador following the Trump Administration’s removal of El Salvador from the list of countries with temporary protected status.


2001 El Salvador Earthquake refugees

For nearly 17 years, Salvadorans have been able to live in the U.S. without fear of deportation thanks to being a country with temporary protected status (T.P.S.). This law, first signed into effect in 1990 by President George Bush, grants protected status to immigrants from countries in which there is ongoing armed conflict, where there has been an environmental disaster, or where there are other extraordinary conditions. El Salvador was added to the list of countries in 2001 by President George W. Bush after large earthquakes devastated the country. However, yesterday, the Trump administration announced that it was ending temporary protection status for nearly 200,000 Salvadorans, meaning by September 9, 2019, they will have to leave the country, unless they have proper documentation.

2001 El Salvador quake map
This Temblor map shows the location of the two large earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001 which prompted President George W. Bush to add El Salvador to the list of countries with temporary protected status. Both the mainshock and the M=6.6 remote aftershock were destructive.


The earthquakes that prompted President George W. Bush to add El Salvador to the list of countries with temporary protection status occurred in January and February of 2001, and had magnitudes of M=7.7 and M=6.6 respectively. In total, over 1,000 people lost their lives, and hundreds of thousands of buildings were either damaged or destroyed. In this earthquake, landslides wreaked havoc, as is common in the country due to steep slopes (see picture below). Additionally, clean water supplies were cut leading to sanitation problems and the spread of disease. Therefore, protection was extended to Salvadorians who felt they could not return or remain in their native country.

However, the Trump administration stated yesterday that, “the secretary determined that the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist. Thus, under the applicable statute, the current T.P.S. designation must be terminated.”

This photo shows a large landslide triggered by the M=7.7 January 13, 2001 El Salvador earthquake. This earthquake, which was followed exactly one month later by a M=6.6, killed over 900 people, and prompted the U.S. Government to add El Salvador to the list of countries with temporary protected status. (AP Photo/La Prensa Grafica)


2010 Haiti Earthquake refugees

While Salvadorans make up the 61% of people with temporary protection status, they are not the only ones losing coverage. 46,000 Haitians, who were added to the list following the 2011 M=7.0 earthquake will have to leave by July 22, 2019. That earthquake struck near the capital city of Port-au-Prince, and killed over 100,000 people predominantly due to building collapse.

This picture shows damaged and collapsed buildings in Haiti following a M=7.0 earthquake in 2010. Haitians that came to the U.S. after the earthquake under temporary protected status will have to leave by July 22, 2019.


2015 Nepal Earthquake refugees

Though El Salvador and Haiti are being removed from the list of countries under temporary protection status, Nepal, devastated by the 2015 M=7.8 earthquake remains on the list. Nepal’s future status will be determined in the next few months as it is currently only extended through June 24, 2018. However, if the Department of Homeland Security deems that conditions in Nepal still support its designation for Temporary Protected Status, it could be extended for another 18 months.

Ceasing temporary protection status for countries ravaged by earthquakes highlights a key issue following large quakes: refugees. While these refugees have taken center stage because they will now be forced to leave the U.S., it is not something only developing countries must deal with. For example, following the 2011 M=9.1 Tohoku, Japan earthquake, nearly 290,000 people were still homeless two years after the earthquake. Therefore, in earthquake-prone countries, including the U.S., preparation must be stressed, and everything that can be done to protect citizens must happen.


New York Times
US Department of Homeland Security