The Trump administration has decided to end a temporary program that allows 57,000 Hondurans to live and work in the United States.
Hondurans who came to the United States after Hurricane Mitch devastated their country in 1998 will be given 18 months to return to their native county or seek another form of legal residency.
After McClatchy first reported the decision, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Friday afternoon announcing the program's end and giving current TPS holders until January 2020 to leave the country or face deportation.
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen M. Nielsen said the decision to end TPS for Honduras was made after a review of the conditions that led to the the country’s original TPS designation.
"Based on careful consideration of available information, including recommendations received as part of an inter-agency consultation process, the secretary determined that the disruption of living conditions in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch that served as the basis for its TPS designation has decreased to a degree that it should no longer be regarded as substantial," Nielsen said.
One of the poorest and most violent countries in the region, Honduras has been plagued by gang violence and drug trafficking, which has forced tens of thousands to flee to the United States annually.
Jill Marie Bussey, director of advocacy for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, one of the groups represented at a meeting with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen this week, said the administration gave the group no indication if the Hondurans in the U.S. would be protected from deportation. But she said officials want to work with Congress to find a permanent solution for the immigrants. She said groups like hers have heard that before.
"They’re willing to cut back these protections from deportation to end people’s work authorizations and then say somewhere down the road we’ll find some congressional solutions," Bussey said. "Yet when congressional solutions become part of the debate and it actually moves somewhere and we see progress, we have a complete misdirection from the administration."
Members of Congress who represent South Florida blasted the decision. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., said the administration's decision not only hurts thousands of Hondurans but also the U.S. economy.
“Sadly, Hondurans are only the latest group of people in my South Florida community losing their TPS status this year following Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Salvadoraans," Ros-Lehtinen said.
The National Immigration Forum, a group that advocates for immigrants, estimates Honduran TPS holders contribute over $1 billion to the U.S. economy and 85 percent of Honduran TPS holders are in the labor force.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fl., who has sponsored legislation granting Honduran TPS holders legal permanent residency, called on Congress to protect TPS holders.
“This is another shortsighted decision by the administration, and while I’m extremely disappointed, I’ve long said Congress has a responsibility to step up and put an end to the anxiety and uncertainty young immigrants brought to our country as children and those contributing to our country under the TPS program face because of these short-term Executive mandates," Curbelo said.
In light of the Honduras decision, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which had filed suit in February on behalf of Haitians and Salvadoran TPS holders, announced Friday that it would "immediately move to amend" its suit to include Hondurans.
More than 300,000 immigrants from about a dozen countries have been allowed to stay in the United States since the Temporary Protected Status program was created in 1990 by Congress. The program was designed to give people whose countries are devastated by natural disasters or other crises a temporary sanctuary until the conditions improve enough to return.
The administration has already let protections for several countries expire, including El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Sudan, Liberia and Nepal. Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras comprise most of the recipients
"The hurricane that struck Honduras in 1998 is not the reason why its citizens still enjoy TPS protection in 2018," said RJ Hauman, government relations director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which seeks to reduce immigration. "They are still here because the people who willingly accepted our temporary offer, their advocates, and their governments have abused our generosity and managed to get the program extended far beyond any reasonable definition of temporary."
Fifty-six members of Congress signed a petition this week urging Nielsen to renew protections for Honduras, who include 46,700 workers in the United States, according to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. There are 53,500 U.S.-born children with Honduran parents who are TPS holders, according to the group.
"Despite substantial efforts made by the United States and the international community to improve conditions in Honduras, the damage of these cataclysmic events compounded by the residual effects of disease, violence, and poverty have resulted in a stagnant recovery, the lawmakers wrote. "Conditions simply have not sufficiently improved to safely and productively reintegrate TPS recipients in their home communities."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke delayed a TPS decision on Hondurans in November after she reportedly felt pressure by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to end the protections. Duke left the administration in April.
At the time, the country was headed into a presidential election. President Juan Orlando Hernandez eventually won a second term amid fraud allegations that sparked protests that killed more than 30 people.
Orlando Lopez, a Honduran TPS holder living in Miami, told reporters on a call this week said he was worried about what would happen if TPS ends. "Not only would there be chaos caused here by this decision, but there would be an even worse burden placed on my country which is not able to receive us," he said.
Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald contributed.