Trump administration cancels immigration benefits for 5K people
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday canceled immigration benefits for nearly 5,300 Nicaraguan nationals who are in the United States, but extended benefits for 86,000 Hondurans.
The Central American migrants were allowed to live and work in the U.S. under a program called Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke gave Nicaraguan TPS recipients 12 months after the country designation’s end date to arrange their affairs and either leave the country or obtain legal status through a different visa category.
That means Nicaraguans under TPS will be allowed to remain and work in the country until Jan. 5, 2019.
Senior administration officials said Duke did not make a determination on Honduras’s TPS designation. By statute, that means the designation is automatically extended by six months, and will now expire on July 5, 2018.
TPS does not provide a path to permanent residency and citizenship, but it does allow beneficiaries to seek other visas.
After Jan. 5, 2019, Nicaraguan TPS beneficiaries who stay in the United States and do not get a different visa will revert to their previous immigration status. For the large majority, if not all, of the affected beneficiaries, that would mean becoming undocumented.
DHS had until Monday to decide whether to renew TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua, ahead of deadlines on the continuation of TPS for 50,000 Haitians on Nov. 23 and 195,000 Salvadorans on Jan. 8.
In May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, who is now the White House chief of staff, renewed Haitian TPS for six months. But he warned beneficiaries that they should use that period of time to “attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States.”
Trump administration officials have long maintained that the temporary nature of TPS was ignored by previous administrations. They say it’s up to Congress to decide whether to extend permanent relief to the program’s beneficiaries.
Senior administration officials said Monday the administration would support legislative efforts to make permanent some of the benefits of TPS.
TPS started in the George H.W. Bush administration as a bipartisan agreement to replace a prior program that gave immigration authorities the ability to exercise prosecutorial discretion for citizens of countries under duress.
TPS codified the protections, allowing a formal but temporary visa status for citizens of countries affected by natural or man-made disasters.
Kuwait was one of the first countries designated for TPS, after Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of the country by Iraqi forces in 1991.
El Salvador is the country with the oldest still-active TPS designation. It was added to the list after three earthquakes devastated the country in 2001.
Honduras and Nicaragua were added to the list after Hurricane Mitch hit the countries in 1998.
Senior administration officials said the Nicaraguan government did not appeal to the United States for an extension, and Duke determined conditions on the ground have improved enough that Nicaragua will be able to re-absorb its citizens.
Honduras did appeal for an extension, and Duke “concluded time is required to make the appropriate designation,” officials said.
The officials added that “it is possible that the current [Honduras] designation may be permanently terminated with appropriate delay at the later date.”
Along with citizens of Honduras, Haiti and El Salvador, citizens of Nepal, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen are protected by TPS. Sudan’s TPS designation is due to end on Nov. 2, 2018.
The TPS designations are reviewed periodically by DHS and the State Department, which must weigh in on whether conditions in the beneficiary countries have improved enough for their citizens to return.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to Duke saying the conditions on the ground in Honduras and Nicaragua no longer justify having the TPS benefits.
By law, the secretary of State must weigh in before TPS status is rescinded.
“Secretary Tillerson and all those at the State Department who participated in this farce of an assessment should be ashamed,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) in a statement Friday.
Ahead of Monday’s deadline — DHS must announce renewal or rescission 60 days before a country’s TPS designation is due to end — Duke was bombarded with appeals to keep the TPS benefits for Honduras and Nicaragua.
Six House Republicans called on Duke Friday to keep TPS for Central American countries, arguing that forcing tens or hundreds of thousands of people to return would further destabilize the region.
The Republican letter, signed by Reps. David Valadao (Calif.), Mario Díaz-Balart (Fla.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Randy Hultgren (Ill.), Pete King (N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), also said remittances — money sent by immigrants to their home countries — are key in maintaining stability in Central America.
“It is important that we do not disrupt the progress we have already made,” read the letter. “Extending these designations will be beneficial to our ultimate goal — a self-sufficient Central America that can adequately meet the needs of its people.”
In September, 116 members — mostly Democrats — also called on Duke to continue the benefits.
Activists have argued it’s unfair to ask long-time TPS holders to return to their home countries, as they’ve made their lives in the United States.
El Salvadoran nationals who’ve been protected by TPS since it was first enacted, for instance, have been in the country for more than 16 years.
“These immigrants, who have had legal status and protection in the United States for nearly 20 years, deserve better. The conditions in their countries remain precarious, as any rational, objective study would conclude,” said McGovern.
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