Stephen Dinan, Washington Times
The Trump administration said Monday that it will cancel a special immigration status that has protected thousands of Nicaraguans from deportation for nearly 20 years, but it punted on a decision for tens of thousands of people from Honduras, instead inviting Congress to step in and grant them full status.
The decision had been anxiously awaited by people from both of those countries, many of whom fear having to go back home after living in the U.S. for two decades under what is known as Temporary Protected Status, a humanitarian program that lets people from places that faced natural disasters remain in the U.S. while their home countries recover.
Some 5,000 people from Nicaragua and more than 86,000 Hondurans are still protected under status first granted in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch struck.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke has concluded that Nicaragua has recovered sufficiently from the hurricane for people to have to return home, while Ms. Duke wants more information to evaluate Honduras.
Big decisions on Haiti and El Salvador are looming later this month and early next year, and those could affect more than 300,000 people, but officials said not to read anything into Ms. Duke’s decisions.
In the case of Nicaragua, the Department of Homeland Security said it will grant a one-year grace period for the protected immigrants to get their affairs in order, but they will have to either depart or find some other legal status in the U.S. by Jan. 5, 2019.
For Honduras, Ms. Duke’s inability to make a decision automatically kicks in a six-month extension, which protects citizens until July 5, 2018.
The law governing Temporary Protected Status is designed to give countries a chance to recover from disasters or other mass tragedies such as wars. It protects those who were in the U.S. as illegal immigrants, here on legal student visas or other temporary permits, letting them stay so their return doesn’t overwhelm their homelands.
TPS status was used to help West African nations deal with Ebola, while the Haiti and El Salvador declarations stem from devastating earthquakes — Haiti’s in 2010, and El Salvador’s dating back to 2001.
Some 263,000 people from El Salvador are protected by TPS, as are about 59,000 Haitians. Those countries are the two biggest designations.
In the case of Haiti, Trump administration officials say, once the country recovers from the earthquake, people must go back — regardless of the fact that the country is struggling from non-hurricane issues.
Government officials in Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti have begged for the U.S. to renew TPS status and let their people stay, saying they have become a part of American society.
But the foreign countries’ motives in wanting their people to remain abroad are also a matter of dollars and cents.
Nearly 18 percent of Honduras’ economy consists of remittances — money sent back home to the country by Hondurans living elsewhere. Remittances to El Salvador constitute 17 percent of its economy, while in Haiti, it’s nearly 30 percent.
Nicaragua’s remittance rate is less than 10 percent. It was the only country of the four big ones with looming decisions whose government didn’t ask for renewed TPS.