State Department Says Haitians, Central Americans In US No Longer Need Protected Status

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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More than 300,000 Haitian and Central American nationals living in the U.S. with a form of temporary immigration status no longer need a reprieve from deportation, the State Department told immigration officials earlier this week.

In a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that conditions in Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador no longer justify giving Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to people from those countries, some of whom have been living and working in the U.S. for nearly two decades.

Tillerson’s assessment, which is required by law, was first reported by the Washington Post on Friday. DHS has until Monday decide on a TPS extension for 57,000 Hondurans and 2,500 Nicaraguans, whose TPS is set to expire in January. The department must make a similar determination about 50,000 Haitians by Thanksgiving Day and nearly 200,000 El Salvadorans by early next year.

Under U.S. immigration law, DHS may grant TPS to foreign nationals already in the U.S.  if conditions in their home country prevent them from returning safely, or if the country is unable to accommodate their return. People with TPS are shielded from deportation on the basis of immigration status and are eligible for work permits and travel authorizations.

People with TPS can also adjust their status based on another claim to immigration benefits, such as marrying a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

The Clinton administration gave TPS to nationals of Honduras and Nicaragua in 1999, after Hurricane Mitch devastated large swaths of Central America. Even though most Hondurans and Nicaraguans with TPS are in the U.S. illegally, they have avoided deportation due to several extensions of the protected status over the last 20 years.

The Obama administration likewise granted TPS to Haitian nationals after a 2010 earthquake killed nearly 200,000 people in one of the worst natural disasters this century. In May, then-DHS Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for Haitians for six months, calling it a “limited” grace period to “allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States.”

In responding to accusation of cruelty against TPS holders from impoverished countries, the Trump administration has noted the program was meant to be temporary when Congress created it in 1990. Administration officials also say Obama used an overly broad interpretation of the law in justifying TPS extensions on the basis of long-passed natural disasters.

“It is fair to say that this administration is interpreting the law, exactly as it is, which the previous one did not,” an administration official said, according WaPo.

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