The Trump administration has decided to end a temporary program that allows 57,000 Hondurans to live and work in the United States, three people familiar with the plans told McClatchy.
Hondurans who came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch devastated their country in 1998 will be given 12 to 18 months to return to their native county or seek another form of legal residency.
The Department of Homeland Security will announce the program’s end as early as Friday afternoon. Officials there are expected to say conditions in Honduras have improved enough for people to return, though some have lived in the United States for two decades.
One of the poorest and most violent countries in the region, Honduras has been plagued by gang violence and drug trafficking, which has forced tens of thousands to flee to the United States annually.
Jill Marie Bussey, director of advocacy for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, one of many groups pushing the administration to allow Hondurans to stay, met with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week.
Bussey said the administration gave her no indication that Hondurans in the U.S. would be protected from deportation but said officials want to work with Congress to find a permanent solution for the immigrants. She said groups like hers have heard that before.
“They’re willing to cut back these protections from deportation to end people’s work authorizations and then say somewhere down the road we’ll find some congressional solutions,” Bussey said. “Yet when congressional solutions become part of the debate and it actually moves somewhere and we see progress, we have a complete misdirection from the administration.”
Tyler Q. Houlton, a DHS spokesman, said Friday morning that no decision has been made.
More than 300,000 immigrants from about a dozen countries have been allowed to stay in the United States since the Temporary Protected Status program was created in 1990 by Congress. The program was designed to give people whose countries are devastated by natural disasters or other crises a temporary sanctuary until the conditions improve enough to return.
The administration has already let protections for several countries expire, including El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Liberia and Nepal. Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras comprise most of the recipients
“The hurricane that struck Honduras in 1998 is not the reason why its citizens still enjoy TPS protection in 2018,” said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to reduce immigration. “They are still here because the people who willingly accepted our temporary offer, their advocates, and their governments have abused our generosity and managed to get the program extended far beyond any reasonable definition of temporary.”
Fifty-six members of Congress signed a petition this week urging Nielsen to renew protections for Honduras, who include 46,700 workers in the United States, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. There are 53,500 U.S.-born children with Honduran parents who are TPS holders, according to the group.
“Despite substantial efforts made by the United States and the international community to improve conditions in Honduras, the damage of these cataclysmic events compounded by the residual effects of disease, violence, and poverty have resulted in a stagnant recovery, the lawmakers wrote. “Conditions simply have not sufficiently improved to safely and productively reintegrate TPS recipients in their home communities.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke delayed a TPS decision on Hondurans in November after she reportedly felt pressure by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to end the protections. Duke left the administration in April.
At the time, the country was headed into a presidential election. President Juan Orlando Hernandez eventually won a second term amid fraud allegations that sparked protests that killed more than 30 people.
Orlando Lopez, a Honduran TPS holder living in Miami, told reporters on a call this week said he was worried about what would happen if TPS ends. “Not only would there be chaos caused here by this decision, but there would be an even worse burden placed on my country which is not able to receive us,” he said.