DHS ends protected status for Nepalese immigrants, gives them 1 year to pack up their lives

The country is still grappling with the devastation wreaked by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake.

Nepali residents take part in a vigil in memory of those killed in an earthquake on the third anniversary of the quake in Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu on April 25, 2018. CREDIT: BIKASH KARKI/AFP/Getty Images
Nepali residents take part in a vigil in memory of those killed in an earthquake on the third anniversary of the quake in Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu on April 25, 2018. CREDIT: BIKASH KARKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump administration scored another coup Thursday in its effort to expel legal immigrants, as the Department of Homeland Security ended temporary legal protections for about 9,000 Nepalese immigrants who have been living in the United States since their homes were decimated by a 2015 earthquake.

On Thursday, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the department was terminating the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Nepal. Nepalese immigrants in the country under TPS now have to find alternative legal methods to stay in the United States or depart by June 24, 2019.

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Following the 2015 earthquake, 15,000 Nepalese residents received TPS and now 9,000 remain in the United States. DHS was required to decide whether to cancel or extend this status 60 days before it expires, which would have been Wednesday. Wednesday was also the three-year anniversary of the earthquake.

“Since the 2015 earthquake, conditions in Nepal have notably improved,” Nielsen said in a statement explaining the decision. “Additionally, since the last review of the country’s conditions in October 2016, Nepal has made substantial progress in post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction.”

In Nepal right now, thousands of earthquake survivors are still living in makeshift shelters three years after the disaster killed almost 9,000 people and destroyed 850,000 homes. Aid funds dried up quickly, and in a country where about a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line, returning residents who had their TPS status revoked will likely have little chance to succeed.

The TPS program, established by Congress in 1990, was created as an attempt to offer legal protections to foreign nationals of countries devastated by natural disasters and armed conflict. It allows foreign nationals in the United States, initially with or without documentation, to stay here, obtain work permits, pay taxes, support their families, and otherwise live their lives. About 320,000 people in the United States have received TPS — mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti — and many now have deep family ties to America, some living and working here for 20 years.

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Last November, the administration canceled the protective status for 2,500 Nicaraguan immigrants living in the United States after 1999’s Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras and Nicaragua. This meant that people who lose this status will revert back to whatever status they had prior to receiving TPS. As ThinkProgress’ Esther Yu Hsi Lee reported at the time, “That means many people would become undocumented if they cannot quickly change their statuses and remain in the country.”

In January, the Department of Homeland Security, pressured by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, decided to cancel TPS for 200,000 Salvadorans who have been living in the United States since at least 2001, when earthquakes devastated the country.

The administration cancelled TPS for 60,000 Haitians in the United States last November, arguing that the country, still grappling with the aftereffects of massive earthquakes and hurricanes, has improved enough that migrants can return there safely. The facts on the ground showed a different story, as relayed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Twitter:

The NAACP sued to void the decision as “irrational and discriminatory” based on Trump’s “public hostility toward immigrants of color.”

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Last September, DHS cancelled TPS for refugees from Sudan, and ordering that Sudanese immigrants without any other legal status leave the United States by November 2, 2018.

The administration also cancelled another program, Deferred Enforced Departure, which allowed about 3,600 Liberians to stay in the United States for over 20 years while the country suffered a brutal civil war.

The administration has also extended TPS for residents from Syria and South Sudan.

It’s not the first time that an administration has either renewed or ended TPS, but with Trump’s executive orders and support for other plans aimed at limiting legal immigration as well as an attempted crackdown on undocumented immigrants, the fate of hundreds of thousands of people who consider America, a putative nation of immigrants, is constantly in jeopardy.