The Trump administration announced Friday it is ending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for more than 56,000 Hondurans, who will have 18 months to leave the country or legalize their status by other means, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The decision brings the number of Central American who have lost TPS to around 300,000 in the last six months. Some 240,000 Salvadorans and 6,000 Nicaraguans already had their status revoked last year, and were given until the summer of 2019 to leave the country.
The TPS status for Honduras had been in force since 1999, a year after the Central American country was hit by Hurricane Mitch, a massive storm that killed 10,000 people, many washed away in floods and mud-slides, and another one million people homeless.
The Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen said Friday's decision was reached after a review of the environmental disaster caused by Mitch. "Since 1999, conditions in Honduras that resulted from the hurricane have notably improved,' she said in a statement. Honduran TPS recipients were given until Jan 5 2020 to leave the country.
Shortly after the announcement, the Honduran government issued a statement saying it "deeply regrets" the decision, but thanked the United States government, and its people, "for having welcomed more than one hundred thousand compatriots under the protection of the Temporary Protection Status (TPS) for two decades."
The Honduran statement said the TPS beneficiaries "are good people, who have fully integrated into American life, adopting their customs and traditions and contributing significantly to the economy and society from that country." It added they had "maintained excellent conduct, working hard and being respectful of the laws."
Critics of the decision say that while Honduras may have recovered from the storm damage it remains one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere and is engulfed in gang violence that has made it one of the most dangerous places in the world. Elections marred by allegations of fraud also resulted in violent protests this year which resulted in 30 deaths.
“After delaying its decision, it is baffling that any additional information provided to the Department of Homeland Security since November could have led them to make this cruel, misinformed decision on TPS for Honduras,” said Geoff Thale, Vice President for Programs at the Washington Office on Latin America, a leading human rights organization. “Honduras has not become more safe, it has become more dangerous in the past six months.”
TPS is granted to immigrants who are unable to return home safely due to conditions or circumstances preventing their country from adequately handling the return. (Read this fact sheet prepared by the National Immigration Forum)
In November, the Trump administration announced a six-month extension while it reviewed new documents sent by the government of Honduras seeking to maintain the protection from deportation for its citizens.
That deadline expires July 5 and by law, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is required to provide notification of its intention 60 days before the deadline.
The beneficiaries of TPS in Honduras have lived in the United States for an average of 22 years, according to data from the Center for American Progress, an independent and non-political institute. They are also parents of at least 53,500 children born in this country. Of the 57,000 Hondurans with TPS in total, currently 46,700 have jobs. Together, they are estimated to have contributed more than $31 billion to the U.S. economy.
About 22% have invested in their communities through home ownership. In addition, 85% participate in the work force, and are especially valued employees in the construction, childcare, landscaping and restaurants sectors where they are most heavily concentrated, according to the American Immigration Council. "If they lose the ability to work legally, the economies of Texas, Florida, North Carolina and California will be the hardest hit as families there struggle to make ends meet," it claims.
One of those people is Iris Acosta, 52, who has lived 25 years in the United States. Like many, she arrived without documents. "Can you imagine everything that I have contributed to this country? It is very unfair to us to take this benefit away from us, I pay taxes, I pay everything," Acosta told Univision Noticias by phone. "I do not see myself returning to Honduras."
The mother of three, Acosta left her children behind in order to provide a better life for them. With what she earns working as a cleaning lady in a hotel in California - just over $ 2,500 a month - she helps them and her ailing mother. A cancer survivor, she also pays $1,000 monthly medical insurance.