The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced last week that they would be automatically extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for approximately 86,000 Hondurans for an additional six months (less than the normal extension period) while at the same time announcing an end to TPS for thousands of Nicaraguans, providing them with a one-year wind down period that will end in January of 2019. While both countries were granted TPS in 1999 after a devastating hurricane killed thousands of Central Americans, the department concluded that the conditions in Nicaragua are now better than they were before the hurricane hit.
The six-month TPS automatic extension for Hondurans comes after DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke effectively delayed the decision on whether to end TPS for Hondurans, saying that “despite receiving input from a broad spectrum of sources, additional time is necessary to obtain and assess supplemental information pertaining to country conditions in Honduras in order to make an appropriately deliberative TPS designation determination.” It is possible that TPS designation for Honduras will be terminated after the six-month automatic extension, with an appropriate delay before termination. Nicaraguans and Hondurans in the US with TPS must reapply for Employment Authorization Documents in order to legally work in the United States until the end of their respective termination or extension periods.
The TPS program allows foreign nationals of eligible countries to live and work in the US if their native country has experienced a natural disaster, armed conflict, or any other extraordinary event that would not allow them to return to that country safely. The status typically lasts anywhere between six to eighteen months, but repetitive renewals have occurred for decades for some countries. In order to qualify, the foreign nationals must have been living in the US continuously when the designation was put in place and must have limited criminal histories. TPS does not provide a path to legal permanent resident status (i.e., a Green Card) or citizenship; however, many protected under the program built a life for themselves in the US and were not expecting to return to their native countries any time soon.
Belinda Osorio arrived in the US from Honduras in 1991. Since then she has worked as a housekeeper in one of the Disney World resort hotels in Florida, married a US citizen, and had two children, who are also US citizens. She has been trying to obtain a marriage-based Green Card, hoping she would receive it before her TPS expired. Although she was relieved to find out that DHS had extended TPS for Hondurans for another six months, she is uncertain about the future. “I don’t think six months is going to fix anything because what are we going to do after six months?” Osorio tells the New York Times. “We’re not going to leave. I’m not going to leave my country. I’m not going to take my kids to a dangerous country.” Gang members have been threatening her seventy-two-year-old mother demanding money, and she fears that her fourteen-year-old son would be forced to join a violent gang if she returned to Honduras. Osorio believes that the threats would be worse for her and her family because she would be returning from the US. “At least I have hope with my husband, but there’s a lot of people, they don’t have nothing. Their only hope is T.P.S. It’s not fair after so many years working so hard in this country, and they just want to get rid of us just like that.”
Immigration advocates and members of Congress have called the decision to rescind TPS “inhumane.” Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland believes that sending thousands of people back to Central American countries that are still recovering from natural disasters or internal strife could actually further destabilize these countries. Cardin issued a statement saying that this decision was just another effort in the “White House’s radical anti-immigration agenda” which has failed to make an honest assessment of these countries’ conditions. Unite Here, a labor union that supports immigrants working in the hotel and food service industries, calls the decision “a stain on American history.” Steven Choi, the executive director for the New York Immigration Coalition, says that the “Trump administration’s recommendation to terminate temporary protected status for hundreds of thousands of people from all over the globe living in the United States is cruel and shameful. America will not be greater or safer by sending back people who’ve made their lives here.”
Countries currently covered under the TPS program include El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. El Salvadorians, who make up approximately sixty percent of those protected under the program, were first granted protection in 2001 after a series of earthquakes devastated the country. Their TPS status is set to expire in March of next year. This past May, former secretary for DHS and now White House Chief of Staff John Kelly extended the protection for Haitians for another six months, but warned that recipients should use that time to make travel arrangements. Kelly also faced controversy for allegedly pressuring acting DHS secretary Elaine Duke into cancelling TPS for Hondurans, a move that was not successful.
The Acting Secretary Duke called on Congress to enact a permanent solution for those with TPS status, saying that she recognized “the difficulty” facing citizens of the TPS-designed countries. Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Florida introduced a bill that would try to provide a path to permanent legal status for some Haitians, Nicaraguans, El Salvadorians, and Hondurans. The decision to provide such a path ultimately lies with Congress, and many like Cornell Law professor Stephen Yale-Loehr hope that those affected by the recent decision to terminate protections for some immigrants receive some kind of assistance. “Individuals from those countries settle here, they have roots, they marry U.S. citizens, they have U.S. citizen children,” Yale-Loehr tells Time Magazine. “So if you take it away then you’re dividing families and sending some people back to their home country.”
UPDATE NOVEMBER 27, 2017: Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke announced that DHS will be terminating Temporary Protected Status for approximately 50,000 Haitians living in the US since 2010 when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Haitians now have until July 22, 2019 to either return to Haiti or find an alternative path to legal status in the US. A statement by DHS explains their reasoning for ending TPS: “Since the 2010 earthquake, the number of displaced people in Haiti has decreased by 97 percent. Significant steps have been taken to improve the stability and equality of life for Haitian citizens, and Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.”
Royce Bernstein Murray, the policy director of the Washington-based American Immigration Council, calculates that Haitians living in the US with TPS have 27,000 US-born children. Murray fears that this decision will separate many families, and notes that approximately twenty percent of Haitian TPS recipients own homes. Many, he argues, are crucial to the US economy, especially in states that have faced natural disasters and are now in dire need of particular skill sets, including construction. “I think it’s a tragedy on a few levels,” Murray tells NPR. “Certainly for the Haitians who have been living and working here to support their families, but also for the communities and employers who’ve come to know them and rely on them as trusted neighbors and employees.”
UPDATE JANUARY 22, 2018: US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that beneficiaries of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) under Haiti’s designation who desire to maintain TPS status through the program’s previously announced termination date of July 22, 2019 must re-register between January 18, 2018 and March 19, 2018.
Re-registration procedures, including renewing employment authorization, are available in the Federal Register and online at uscis.gov/tps. To re-register, applicants must submit Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status, and applicants may submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, at the same time or separately at a later date.
USCIS will issue new Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) with a July 22, 2019 expiration date to those eligible Haitian TPS beneficiaries who timely re-register and apply for EADs. Because of the timeframes for processing TPS re-registration, however, USCIS states that they will automatically extend the validity of EADs with an expiration date of January 22, 2018 for 180 days through July 21, 2018.
Additionally, USCIS states that individuals who have EADs with an expiration date of July 22, 2017, and who applied for a new EAD during the last re-registration period but have not yet received their new EADs, are also covered by this automatic extension. For proof of continued employment authorization through July 21, 2018, these individuals may show to their employer the EAD indicating a July 22, 2017 expiration date and their EAD I-797C receipt notice that shows the application was received on or after May 24, 2017, along with this USCIS statement.