On Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said it would terminate the status for some 2,500 Nicaraguans in January 2019, making the recipients of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) subject to deportation proceedings unless they find another immigration solution.

Berta Sandes, 38, of Miami, an undocumented immigrant from Nicaragua, holds a sign that translates to “Trump Equals Hate” during a protest against then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump outside the Trump National Doral golf resort, March 14, 2016, in Doral, Fla.

Following the Trump administration’s move to send home some Nicaraguans long granted U.S. protection, lawmakers from both parties said Tuesday that Congress needed to find a permanent solution to a program designed to offer certain foreigners a haven from war or natural disasters, and they appealed for the White House to reconsider.

“The lives of thousands of law-abiding, hardworking people who contribute to America in every way will be thrown into danger and legal jeopardy,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California. She added: “If the White House refuses to protect vulnerable people and keep families intact, Congress must pass a permanent, bipartisan fix.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, declined to comment on the decision announced Monday by acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke.

Florida Representative Mario Diaz-Balart said he was “deeply pained” by the administration’s action, disagreed with it and urged the administration “to seriously reconsider the decision regarding Nicaraguan nationals.”

A security guard looks out of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in New York, Aug. 15, 2012.

Decision delayed for Hondurans

But the agency deferred the decision for 57,000 Hondurans, extending the Jan. 5, 2018 expiration date by six months.

“In the coming months, I will seek additional information and thoroughly review the country conditions of Honduras. If I determine country conditions no longer warrant a continued designation, I will terminate the designation,” Acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke wrote in a memo to the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday.

Within the next year, a 23-year-old woman could see her immediate family disintegrate if the U.S. government rescinds a special protection status for Honduran citizens in the country.

Seven of her relatives — including her mother, stepfather, and sister — will face possible deportation to Honduras, or may leave on their own, pending the outcome of the Trump administration’s decision on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for the Central American country.

“My sister is who I’m most worried about,” says the Honduran-American woman, who did not want her name used. She is the youngest in a family of four siblings, and the only one who was born in the United States. If her family returns to Honduras, she will suddenly become a stand-in parent, too.

“If they go, I will have to move in with two little American cousins of mine and assume the role of their caretaker,” she said. “This is what I know of our plans so far.”

 

Kirstjen Nielsen, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 12, 2017, in Washington.

More countries are involved

Duke may not be the one to make the final decision on Honduras or any of the upcoming TPS countries with expiration dates in 2018. In October, President Trump nominated White House Deputy Chief of Staff Kirstjen Nielsen for the cabinet position of Secretary of Homeland Security.

TPS was issued for several countries in the wake of natural disasters or intense conflicts. It gave citizens of those countries present in the U.S. legal status and work authorization, if they met certain criteria and passed a criminal background check. But TPS provided no path to permanent residency or citizenship.

For Hondurans, Salvadorans, and citizens of the other seven TPS designated countries — once the TPS designation is removed, they will have to apply for another immigrant status, leave the country or risk deportation. For Nicaraguans, that day will be Jan. 5, 2019.

The TPS

The program covers 435,000 people from nine countries ravaged by natural disasters or war and who came to the U.S., legally or otherwise, during the period their countries were covered by the presidential decree. Those countries are: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

That status was meant to be temporary, but the Bush and Obama administrations repeatedly renewed it because of concerns that the countries could not cope with the repatriation of so many former residents.

What to expect

So what will happen the day they are no longer protected?

“The individual returns to the immigration status they had prior to TPS if it remains valid,” explains Royce Bernstein Murray, Policy Director at the American Immigration Council. “For most of these people as a practical matter, that means they will be undocumented.”

They may not be targeted for removal just because their TPS status expired, “but they could certainly be picked up as collateral arrests,” says Murray. Most at risk, she believes, will be TPS recipients who had final removal orders — one of the last administrative steps before deportation — before receiving TPS status.

“If and when TPS ends, individuals who have final removal orders are indeed enforcement targets for fugitive operations … we could very quickly see TPS beneficiaries swept up in these enforcement dragnets,” says Murray.