Application deadline confusion could have devastating consequences for TPS recipients

DACA recipients are currently dealing with a similar problem.

Immigrants attend a DACA and TPS workshop on January 27, 2018 in Stamford, Connecticut. CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images
Immigrants attend a DACA and TPS workshop on January 27, 2018 in Stamford, Connecticut. CREDIT: John Moore/Getty Images

Hondurans and Nicaraguans covered by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) could face the same problem currently plaguing recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program: confusion over application deadlines.

According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), citizens of both countries who are currently covered by TPS and living in the United States must ensure that their applications re-registering their status are received by February 14, rather than mailed by that date. Those whose applications aren’t received by next week could lose their status, leaving them at risk of deportation long-term.

“Reminder: The deadline to re-register Temporary Protected Status for Honduras and Nicaragua is Feb. 14. We must RECEIVE your re-registration before Feb. 14,” USCIS tweeted on Monday.

That language is a bit more clear than what’s currently on the USCIS website.

“If you currently have TPS for Honduras and would like to keep your TPS, you must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period that runs from Dec. 15, 2017, through Feb. 13, 2018,” the USCIS website advises. It employs the same language for Nicaraguan applicants.

The wording of the deadline might make it seem like applicants have until February 14 to send in their paperwork. The reality is that if their documents aren’t with USCIS by that date, they’ll run into trouble.

Last September, President Trump ended temporary deportation relief for around 800,000 DACA recipients — young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. The White House kicked the issue to Congress, giving lawmakers until March 5 to reach a resolution. But that date is far from the real deadline — approximately 36,000 faced a loss of their status last fall when they failed to send in renewal paperwork by October 5.

At the time, USCIS sparked outcry, with many recipients arguing their applications were slowed by delays in the mail and other hurdles preventing them from meeting the deadline (including the disruption posed by severe hurricanes in places like Texas.) Despite admissions from the U.S. Postal Service that delays had indeed occurred, the Trump administration ignored requests for leniency from DACA recipients. A month later, the Department of Homeland Security announced that some DACA recipients impacted by postal slow-downs would have their applications reconsidered, but did not guarantee that they would be accepted.

TPS recipients are caught in an especially precarious situation. The protections are given to immigrants leaving countries plagued by internal struggles, like natural disasters or war. Hondurans and Nicaraguans were given protections in 1999 after Hurricane Mitch devastated both countries; in the nearly two decades since, many who immigrated have established lives in the United States. Without those protections, they stand to be uprooted and sent back to their home countries.

In November, Trump announced that protections for Nicaraguans would end by January 2019. Hondurans are still in limbo, as the administration has not yet made a concrete decision about their future. Instead, they’ve been given a six-month extension, ending July 5. At that point, the deadline may be extended again. If the deadline is not extended, Hondurans, too, face status termination.

All of this means TPS recipients of both countries must get their renewal applications to USCIS promptly. Those who miss the February 14 application deadline will likely lose their status. They won’t be subject to imminent deportation, but it will put them at risk in the long-term.

USCIS has not documented any kind of mail delay at present.

Mail-in deadlines will likely impact other communities as well. TPS status for Haitians is set to expire in mid-2019; nearly 200,000 Salvadorans also have one year from this coming September to make plans to leave the United States (their applications must be received by March 9.) South Sudanese nationals have been granted an extension through May 2019, at which point their status will be reviewed again. Sudanese nationals have already lost protections and are expected to leave within the year.