The Trump administration will end a temporary program that allows some Nicaraguans to live and work in the United States, while leaving the door open to canceling the same program for more than 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans in the coming weeks.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday night that about 2,000 Nicaraguans who have Temporary Protected Status must leave or seek another form of legal residency, though those affected will be able to stay until Jan. 5, 2019.
The status had been granted to some Nicaraguans who had fled their homeland after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
“Based on all available information, the country conditions in Nicaragua now exceed Hurricane Mitch,” said a senior administration official.
The 1998 hurricane killed more than 2,000 people in Nicaragua and caused over $1 billion in damage.
But the bigger impact will come when the administration makes a final decision on the status of Salvadorans and Haitians. Haitians’ status is set to expire in January 2018, affecting about 50,000 people, most of them in Florida, while Salvadorans’ status expires in March 2018, affecting nearly 200,000 people.
Homeland Security officials also announced that Honduras will get a six-month TPS extension, until July 2018, after the program was set to expire in January. Just under 60,000 Hondurans have received TPS.
Local advocate Francisco Portillo, president of the Honduran group Francisco Morazán, said immigration organizations will keep fighting to win legalization for Honduran TPS holders.
“We are sad by the news but feel fortunate that we got six months to keep lobbying in Washington,” Portillo said. “Let’s see if we can get Congress to legalize these people who have been in the country for decades, are homeowners and business owners and whose kids were born here.”
A bill proposed last week by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and co-sponsored by other members of South Florida’s congressional delegation would grant TPS recipients from Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua a path to permanent residency. Only Congress can provide a permanent solution for individuals enrolled in TPS.
There is a push by some close to Trump to get at least another six-month extension for Haitians. But it’s unclear if that will happen, given the strong desire by some in the Department of Homeland Security and the White House to terminate the program.
Immigration advocates held a press conference in Miami on Monday to make a last-minute plea to the Trump administration to not terminate the status for Haitians and Central Americans.
“These are people who have had to go to the Department of Homeland security every 18 months, and have shown their papers, their information, their records, have paid to be renewed. They have consistently complied with the Department of Homeland Security. They are the fabric of our communities, and our economies and our industries,” said Maria Rodriguez of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
There is talk at the Department of Homeland Security and Democratic and Republican offices about potentially using the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, which Trump wants to end, to help Haitians and other TPS members to get permanent residency.
TPS for Haitians was expected to expire this summer, but the secretary of Homeland Security at the time, John Kelly, decided in May to extend the status an additional six months to allow Haitians more time to prepare for the change.
“Haiti is a textbook case for an 18-month extension due to Hurricane Matthew, the cholera epidemic, and incomplete earthquake recovery,” said Steve Forester, immigration policy coordinator with the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “No honest, informed observer could find otherwise. If the administration ends TPS for Haiti, it will indicate an ideological agenda, intentionally ignoring the clear facts on the ground and violating the national security interests of both nations.”
Homeland Security initially grants TPS for between six and 18 months, and can renew the status indefinitely if conditions remain unsafe or the country involved is unable to handle the return of its nationals. The renewals are a source of some controversy in the U.S. Some critics feel the benefits have basically become permanent, because some nationals from Honduras and Nicaragua have held the status for as long as 20 years.
The United States granted TPS to Haitian nationals living in the U.S. following the cataclysmic earthquake in 2010 that left more than 300,000 dead, 1.5 million homeless and an equal number injured. But while the country continues to suffer from extreme poverty, Kelly told members of Congress this summer that conditions for which TPS was granted have largely been resolved.
Proponents of TPS for people from Central America and Haiti argue that ending the designation for those countries is counterproductive and could also drive more illegal immigration.
“When this administration came into office they came wanting to address the issue of the undocumented immigrants. And in fact by not renewing the Temporary Protected Status.... they have actually made matters worse,” Rodriguez said. “It is very important that these families not go back into the shadows and be fed into the deportation machinery. That hurts us all.”
Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles contributed to this story.