Wall Street Journal
By Alicia Caldwell
November 04, 2017
The Trump administration is set to decide by Monday whether 86,000 Hondurans and 5,000 Nicaraguans living in the U.S. can remain here under a program that protects immigrants from countries that have suffered major disasters or social upheaval.
The decision could signal the administration’s overall approach to the program, known as Temporary Protected Status, for some 350,000 Central Americans and 58,000 Haitians also living in the U.S., according to data provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which administers the program.
The U.S. government numbers track participants in the program through 2016. However, immigration experts say the numbers are lower because some participants have left the country or gained legal status through other means.
This week, the State Department said conditions that led to citizens of those countries being offered protected status in the U.S. had improved enough to allow Central Americans and Haitians to return home, according to a report in the Washington Post.
No decisions have been made on whether to extend the status, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman said Friday. A White House spokesman referred questions about the program to Homeland Security. A spokesman for the State Department didn’t confirm the reported assessment and said the department had “no comments on internal and interagency deliberation.”
The State Department evaluation, however, is likely to inform the Trump administration’s decisions. Central Americans were already on edge about losing protected status; some have been here for nearly two decades.
“Without a final decision from the Department of Homeland Security, it’s difficult to know what to make of” the State Department assessment, said Royce Murray, policy director for the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group.
Ms. Murray said she was briefed by people familiar with the State Department’s appraisal.
“This is part of the consultation process. It’s well within the discretion of the secretary of Homeland Security to disagree and come to a different conclusion,” she said.
Ms. Murray said her organization believes the conditions in Haiti and Central America still warrant protection for the immigrants.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports stricter regulation, has argued against TPS since at least 1999, saying the program rewards illegal immigration by offering a foothold in the U.S.
Ira Melhman, a spokesman for FAIR, said continuing to renew protections for immigrants from countries that suffered disasters almost 20 years ago undermines the intent of the program as temporary.
“If the offer of TPS becomes a de facto amnesty, then it’s abuse of the generosity of the American people,” Mr. Melhman said.
The program was approved by Congress as part of a broader immigration law in 1990. That same law included the creation of Diversity Visa Lottery, a program now at the center of the immigration debate in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in New York.
Immigrants from Honduras and Nicaragua were granted Temporary Protected Status in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch made landfall in 1998. It has been renewed every 18 months since then.
Immigrants from El Salvador have been protected under the program after a series of earthquakes devastated parts of that country in 2001.
Each country has its own deadline for renewal of the protected status. The Trump administration must make a decision about the largest group—263,000 Salvadorans—by early January.
In May then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly suggested that the longstanding TPS designations could end.
“The message is: by definition, TPS is temporary,” Mr. Kelly said after a “limited” six-month TPS extension for Haitians was announced.
Mr. Kelly, now Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, said Haitians in the U.S. should use the brief renewal period to get their affairs in order and make arrangements to leave.
Past administrations have ended TPS designation for citizens of other countries after their nations have recovered from natural disasters or political upheaval. Those from African countries affected by the deadly Ebola outbreak were granted protected status, but that was allowed to lapse by the Obama administration.
TPS for some Central American countries, however, has been routinely extended by several administrations. Immigration advocates and Central American officials have lobbied to maintain TPS as the countries recover from the lingering effects of the original disasters, as well as economic strife and violent crime.
Iris Acosta sneaked into the U.S. from Honduras in 1994 and got a job in the Los Angeles area as a nanny. Four years later, Hurricane Mitch slammed into her home country and Ms. Acosta was granted TPS in 1999. Her status was repeatedly extended, and she remained in the U.S.
Ms. Acosta, 51 years old, said the work permit that came with her TPS approval meant that she could find work legally and send money home to support her three children with her job in housekeeping at a hospital in the Los Angeles area.
“The truth is, I can’t go back to my country,” she said. “I have to keep working. My family depends on me.”
According to the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, Central American TPS recipients have been in the U.S. for an average of more than 20 years.
Tens of thousands of those people have mortgages and nearly than 250,000 Central Americans are working under the program. Combined they are also parents to more than 273,000 U.S.-born children.
The center found that as much as $164 billion could be lost from the U.S. economy in 10 years if TPS for Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti is canceled.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has urged acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke to renew the TPS protections for Central Americans and Haitians.
The group’s senior vice president and chief policy officer, Neil Bradley, said in an Oct. 26 letter that ending the program would have a negative impact on several industries, including construction and home health-care services.
Mr. Bradley said ending TPS for El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras would likely put a strain on hurricane recovery efforts in Texas and Florida, adding that there are as many as 50,000 TPS beneficiaries who work in construction living in those two states.
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