The Trump administration has announced it will end Temporary Protected Status - known as TPS - for more than 5,000 Nicaraguan immigrants in the U.S. But Homeland Security officials said they have yet to decide the fate of three much larger groups of TPS holders: Hondurans, Salvadorans and Haitians. That means many people would become undocumented if they can not quickly change their statuses and remain in the country.
Immigrants from both countries were given the special status in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America. Every 6 to 18 months, immigration officials determine whether TPS is extended for each country.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday to end Temporay Protection Status for Nicaraguans..
The decision on Nicaragua will be implemented 12 months after its deadline expires, meaning January 5, 2019.
On Monday, DHS determined that Nicaraguan TPS holders can now return home and said that the Nicaraguan government will adequately handle their return. "They are hardworking individuals who have substantial roots in this country and have made contributions to our society and local economies".
According to one study, Haitians, Salvadorans and Hondurans comprise the three largest TPS holders and together have a total of 273,000 children who were born in the USA and have American citizenship.
At the same time, the U.S. administration extended the TPS for six months, until July 2018, for the same reason for some 86,160 Hondurans.
As it stands, TPS does not lead to a green card in the first place, but individuals who were covered under the program and meet the normal qualifications can apply to stay and work here permanently.
The program was enacted by Congress in 1990 to protect immigrants fleeing war or natural disasters. "These are people who are working, who are paying their taxes, and we hope that when the time comes when they follow this process in the USA, that we will have the opportunity to have a renewal of the Temporary Protection Status or some way to have our countrymen continue to live in this country".
Nicaraguans and Hondurans with TPS will be required to reapply for Employment Authorization Documents in order to legally work in the United States until the end of the respective termination or extension periods. 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.
Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at Kansas University who studies TPS, said that most Central American immigrants protected by the program have been in the US for about 20 years and are unlikely to leave, regardless of the DHS decision.
McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Legal Services in the Archdiocese of Miami, said USA law is meant to be implemented "with a certain degree of kindness and compassion", and that sending people to countries that are ill-prepared to welcome them would do far more harm than good. "That's unfair", she said of Homeland Security officials.