Update, 11:07 a.m., Nov. 7, 2017: Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke announced late Monday, Nov. 6, that more than 5,300 Nicaraguan immigrants living and working legally in the United States since 1999 will lose their Temporary Protected Status and work permits on January 5, 2019. Duke said conditions caused by a devastating hurricane that hit Central America in late 1998 no longer justify TPS, which protects immigrants from deportation. Duke said Homeland Security hasn’t yet decided whether to end TPS for more than 86,000 Honduran immigrants also protected from deportation since 1999. Absent a decision, Hondurans were automatically given a six-month extension Monday that lasts through July 5, 2018. But Duke warned that the Hondurans’ TPS could also ultimately be terminated “with an appropriate delay.” Because of the difficulty immigrants here for two decades now face, Duke called on Congress “to enact a permanent solution for this inherently permanent program.” CASA, a national immigrant rights group, denounced the decisions, warning that “families with children who are U.S. citizens will be destroyed” as TPS holders are “discarded.” The UNITE HERE labor union called Homeland Security’s actions “astounding cruelty” and “a stain on American history” that will “forcibly tear” people from their U.S.-born children, jobs, businesses and homes.
Juan Cortez of Maryland owns his own trucking business — he’s almost paid off the $50,000 loan he took to start it — and he holds county contracts to plow snow every winter just outside Washington, D.C. After nearly a quarter of a century here, the Salvadoran immigrant is also the proud owner of a home, and he pays tens of thousands of dollars in annual taxes. He has a daughter in college and a son in high school who’s in the ROTC, the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“My son wants to serve this country,” said Cortez, 47, who lives just miles from the nation’s capital. “But what If I can’t be here anymore?"
Cortez has plenty of reason to worry. In a matter of months, the Trump Administration could turn this entrepreneur and dad and hundreds of thousands of others into instant undocumented immigrants, no longer allowed to live and work here legally. With the stroke of a pen, the Department of Homeland Security could either end — or extend — a quasi-legal state known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, that Cortez and 263,280 other Salvadorans already in the United States were granted way back in 2001. But no one knows quite what’s going to happen next. Earthquakes that devastated El Salvador in 2001 were the rationale for the U.S. to initially provide such status to Salvadoran immigrants who were already here, and who mostly arrived illegally. They had to pass background checks and other vetting to receive TPS status, and they must repeat that vetting every 18 months, and pay for it themselves.
The majority of the Salvadorans who were in the United States in 2001 had fled Central America to escape poverty and the violence of a brutal Cold War-era armed conflict in the 1980s and 1990s in which the U.S. was heavily involved.
The TPS designation that brought these Salvadorans out of the shadows was also provided to others as the result of natural disasters; about 5,350 Nicaraguans and 86,180 Hondurans have had TPS since 1999 because of a massive hurricane that caused widespread destruction. More than 58,700 Haitians have had TPS since 2010 because of unprecedented earthquake damage. Many of those who enjoy TPS have been in the U.S. for years, and have built businesses and had children, just like Juan Cortez. Their stays have been extended again and again by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
But the day of reckoning may have arrived. The Trump Administration has already issued a warning that Haitians could lose TPS for good in January after a six-month extension that began in June. Later today, Hondurans and Nicaraguans will learn if they could also face a deadline in the near future (see update). Salvadorans are anxious about an announcement about their fate that could come in March. If TPS is terminated, more than 300,000 people will lose protection from deportation and also forfeit the work permits they’ve been paying to obtain every 18 months for many years.