The Department of Homeland Security ended temporary deportation protection for 57,000 Honduran immigrants on Friday, forcing them to either find another legal way to stay in the country or pack up their lives and leave.
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Honduras will officially end on January 5, 2020. Until then, Honduran immigrants on TPS will either have to change their legal status or leave the country.
Honduras was added to the list of TPS countries in 1999, after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country (along with Nicaragua, which was also added to TPS at the same time). Mitch was the deadliest hurricane in the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years. More than 11,000 people across Central America died and millions were left homeless in the wake of the storm.
“Since 1999, conditions in Honduras that resulted from the hurricane have notably improved,” DHS said in a statement Friday. “Additionally, since the last review of the country’s conditions in October 2016, Honduras has made substantial progress in post-hurricane recovery and reconstruction from the 1998 Hurricane Mitch.”
Honduras has one of the world’s highest murder rates outside of a war zone. The country has seen deadly protests since the disputed reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernandez last November. Security forces have used excessive and lethal force against protesters, and shot a majority of the people who were killed in protests, the U.N. human rights office reported.
The U.S. State Department has currently given Honduras a Level 3 Travel Advisory, urging Americans who wish to visit the country to reconsider travel due to violent crime and gang activity.
Honduras is also one of the most unequal countries in the world. More than half of the population lives below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank.
The TPS program was created by Congress in 1990 to offer refuge to immigrants from 10 countries racked by violence, natural disasters, or “other extraordinary and temporary conditions” making it hard for people to return. Immigrants with TPS receive deportation protection, work authorization, and can even get driver’s licenses. The administration can only extend a TPS designation for 6 to 18 months at a time, meaning that people granted this status often live their lives on hold.
The program does not offer legal permanent residency or a path to citizenship, but many TPS immigrants have spent much of their life in the United States. More than half of Honduran immigrants with TPS have lived in the United States for more than 20 years. Nearly one-fourth of Honduran TPS beneficiaries were 15 years old or younger when they first arrived in the United States, according to a study from the Center for Migration Studies. More than 53,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent who is a Honduran TPS beneficiary.
Many Hondurans were among the asylum-seekers crossing through Mexico in a caravan. At least 88 of them have been allowed into the United States thus far, but dozens more are still waiting at the border.
Last November, DHS extended TPS for Honduran immigrants for six months, changing the expiration date to July 5, 2018. At the time, DHS Acting Secretary said that additional time was needed to assess conditions in Honduras due to a “lack of definitive information regarding conditions on the ground compared to pre-Hurricane Mitch.”
Honduran immigrants are the sixth group of immigrants to lose TPS under the Trump administration — joining roughly 9,000 Nepalese immigrants, 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, 50,000 Haitian immigrants, 2,500 Nicaraguan immigrants, and 1,000 Sudanese immigrants. In March, Liberian immigrants also lost a protected immigration status known as Deferred Enforced Departure.
The Honduran government was pressuring the White House to keep TPS for Honduran immigrants.
“We’ve demonstrated that we’re closely aligned with this country,” Gerardo Simon, the consul general of the Honduran Consulate in Miami, told USA Today last month. “We’ve taken all their advice. The U.S. knows the efforts we’ve made. Now we’re asking for a favor, for help, for Honduras.”