Immigrants fear loss of humanitarian program.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Iris Acosta has spent the last two decades enrolled in an immigration program that has helped her get a work permit, put three children through school in her native Honduras and obtain health insurance to cover her cancer treatment.
Now, the 51-year-old hotel housekeeper from Los Angeles fears it could all come to an abrupt halt.
Acosta is one of about 400,000 immigrants who have been allowed to remain here under a little-known humanitarian program that could be on shaky ground in President Donald Trump’s administration as it comes up for renewal in the coming months for many of its recipients.
The beneficiaries — many who came to the country illegally from Honduras and El Salvador — worry the administration will phase out their access to the program and deport them to countries where they haven’t lived in years.
“I don’t know what I’d do in my country,” said Acosta, who has lived nearly half her life in the United States. “I have nothing there.”
The program known as Temporary Protected Status is geared toward countries ravaged by natural disasters or war. It is a temporary fix for immigrants without legal status, much like the more widely known Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to protect from deportation immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — an initiative Trump recently ended.
Ten countries are currently designated for the program, with more than 70 percent either from El Salvador or Honduras, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The program was created by law, but the Trump administration decides which countries should participate and for how long.
When the federal government taps a country for the program, its citizens already in the United States are allowed to remain and work here, regardless of how they came. They can’t bring family to join them, and immigrants who arrive later are not allowed to sign up.
The U.S. government offered the status to Hondurans and Nicaraguans after their countries were decimated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and to Salvadorans after a deadly 2001 earthquake. The idea was to let immigrants work and send money back to help relatives recover from the damage and not burden the countries with a large number of deportees.
While the status was meant to be temporary, it was repeatedly renewed by the Bush and Obama administrations over concerns the countries could not shoulder the return of so many people. As a result, some immigrants have been allowed to stay in the U.S. for nearly 20 years.
The program is up for renewal again in the coming months, with decisions on Honduras and Nicaragua expected by early November.
Officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have not said what the administration plans to do. The Homeland Security Secretary will review country conditions and make a decision at least 60 days before each country’s status expires.
The Trump administration has stepped up immigration enforcement and signaled it could take a harder line on the program.
Since taking office, Trump has ended the program for Sudan and issued a shorter-than-usual renewal for Haiti, which was designated after a devastating 2010 earthquake.
Immigrant advocates are trying to raise awareness about the program and pressure lawmakers and businesses to lobby the administration to keep it.
Unions and immigrant rights groups held rallies and a vigil last week in Washington and Los Angeles.
Still, the program has received scant attention compared to the soon-to-expire DACA program for young immigrants — many of whom are college-educated, American-raised, politically connected and internet-savvy. In contrast, those with temporary protected status often work in housekeeping or construction and lack the political clout of their DACA counterparts.
“I don’t know what I’d do in my country, I have nothing there.” Iris Acosta
In this Oct. 18 photo, Iris Acosta, a 51-year-old hotel housekeeper from Honduras, pauses for photos in her sister’s apartment in Los Angeles. Acosta is a Temporary Protected Status recipient, a program that is geared toward countries ravaged by natural disasters or war.