Trump administration ends protections for nearly 90K Hondurans

WASHINGTON — Nearly 90,000 Hondurans who have lived in the US at least two decades could be forced to leave the country after the Trump administration decided Friday to end protections for the immigrants that go back to the 1990s, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

The move brings the total number of immigrants for whom the administration has decided to end temporary protected status in the last year to more than 425,000, many who have lived in the US legally for decades, according to numbers from US Citizenship and Immigration Services. The decision is expected to be announced Friday afternoon.

The Homeland Security Department’s decision on Friday ends the temporary protected status designation for Honduras that was put in place after Hurricane Mitch. There are about 86,000 current recipients, according to USCIS’s count at the end of October, and all of them must have lived in the US continuously since at least 1999.

They will have 18 months to either leave the country or make other arrangements to stay, if they can qualify for a visa some other way.

Temporary protected status must be extended for countries every couple years, and the deadline to make a decision on Honduras was approaching this weekend. The Trump administration has opted to end almost all of the temporary protected status designations on the books this year, including protections for nearly 60,000 immigrants from Haiti, more than 250,000 from El Salvador, about 5,000 from Nicaragua and nearly 15,000 from Nepal. The Central American countries have had their temporary protected status extended by previous administrations continuously since the 1990s and early 2000s.

The administration has taken an aggressive approach to temporary protected status. The government may declare the status on humanitarian grounds for a country facing dire conditions, such as a natural disaster, war or epidemic. It is renewed until conditions are considered improved enough to merit sending people back to that country.

Under President Donald Trump, the administration has been focusing acutely on the part of the law that says the status should only be extended as long as the original conditions persist. Though the countries that have seen their status ended are largely still facing extreme poverty and sometimes intractable gang violence, DHS insists it must end temporary protected status as long as the recovery from the initial disaster, in Honduras’ case a hurricane, has shown improvement.

But critics have accused the administration of pre-deciding to end the status regardless of the dangerous conditions that persist in the home countries and in some cases over the objections of those countries’ governments.

An internal document recently made public shows that in the case of Haiti, DHS staff had written that “many of the conditions prompting the original January 2010 TPS designation persist, and the country remains vulnerable to external shocks and internal fragility.”

But the director of USCIS then wrote to the secretary that conditions had improved enough to remove the status, and DHS did so when the decision was due.

The Honduras decision was postponed six months from last fall, when then-acting Secretary Elaine Duke said she couldn’t reach a decision on the country and thus extended the status for more time to deliberate. Sources told CNN that Duke made the decision despite pressure from White House chief of staff and former DHS Secretary John Kelly to terminate it then.

The only protections that DHS has renewed under temporary protected status in the Trump administration have been for South Sudan and Syria. It has ended protections for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan and ended similar protections under the President’s authority for Liberians.