Trump Administration to End Quasi-Amnesty for Nicaraguans After 20 Years
5,300 people who have been living in the U.S. since the 1998 hurricane will have to return home by January of 2019
The Department of Homeland Security indicated Monday that it would end a quasi-amnesty program for 5,300 people in the U.S. from Nicaragua, but extend it for 86,000 from Honduras.
The U.S. had originally granted Temporary Protected Status to people from both countries after they were ravaged by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters late Monday that acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke had determined that additional time is needed to consider the case of Honduras, triggering an automatic six-month extension.
The officials said Duke decided to end the program for 5,300 Nicaraguans but would delay implementation for a year. That means that the recipients will revert to their former immigration status on Jan. 5, 2019, rather than this coming January 5.
“The 12-month delayed effective date will allow for an orderly transition and provide time for TPS beneficiaries to seek an alternative lawful immigration status in the United States, if eligible, or, if necessary, arrange for their departure,” the official said.
The official noted that while the Nicaraguan government had not objected to termination of TPS for its citizens living in the United States, the Honduran government had asked that it be continued.
Although the program is designed to provide temporary relief to people whose home countries are experiencing an emergency, the federal government periodically has extended the program for Nicaraguans and Hondurans. They are among 13 countries whose citizens enjoy TPS status.
Duke’s decision follows a determination made last week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that current conditions no longer justify TPS status for people from those countries or those from El Salvador and Haiti.
The approach to Nicaragua is similar to the one that President Donald Trump’s administration took when it decided to end TPS for Sudanese citizens but delay implementation. Given that, it is not surprising that the administration included a delay in its decision on Nicaragua, according to one immigration expert.
“I don’t think any reasonable person actually thought it would end immediately,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies. “It seems to me that a one-year grace period is very, very generous considering [that] the offer of the government has always been a temporary period.”
The administration official said only Congress could offer permanent relief to TPS recipients.
“That is up to Congress, but the administration would support Congress’ efforts to find such a solution,” he said.
The officials said that the Nicaraguans would lose their work authorization when their status expires Jan. 5, 2019, and would have to leave the country by then if they cannot convert to another immigration status. But he suggested most of them probably do not have to worry about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers' knocking down their doors.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers do not proactively share information with ICE, he said, and few TPS beneficiaries would be a high enforcement priority.
Vaughan said illegal immigrants losing TPS should feel pressure to return to their home countries, but she predicted that advocacy groups will encourage them to fight it.
"The problem is the mixed messages that they get," she said.