Nicaraguans’ pro­tected sta­tus ends; Hon­duran de­ci­sion de­layed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said 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.

“The only in­di­ca­tion you should re­ceive is that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is ex­am­in­ing earnestly and thought­fully the con­di­tions on the ground,” a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said in brief­ing re­porters.

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 se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial brief­ing re­porters said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion wants Congress to con­sider a more per­ma­nent so­lu­tion that would al­low those pro­tected to re­main in the U.S.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion would sup­port Congress’ ef­forts to find such a so­lu­tion,” the of­fi­cial said.

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.

Un­der pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, TPS des­ig­na­tions were reg­u­larly ex­tended as a near-au­to­matic de­ci­sion. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, point­ing out that the law al­lows TPS to ex­ist only as long as the con­di­tions caused by the orig­i­nal tragedy per­sist.

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.

Im­mi­grant rights ac­tivists in­sist the coun­tries re­main stricken and say those who have been in the U.S. that long have put down roots that must be hon­ored.

“De­port­ing TPS hold­ers means de­port­ing the par­ents of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies, and send­ing peo­ple to dan­ger,” said the Rev. John L. McCul­lough, pres­i­dent of Church World Ser­vice, a lead­ing refugee ad­vo­cacy group.

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 for big ones with loom­ing de­ci­sions whose gov­ern­ment didn’t ask for re­newed TPS.

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