Im­mi­grants fear loss of hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­gram.

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE -

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

AP PHOTO/JAE C. HONG

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.

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