Thousands May Lose Special U.S. Status

Pablo Bachelet, Miami Herald, Jan. 17, 2006

WASHINGTON—The Department of Homeland Security wants to end the special immigration status that has allowed some 300,000 illegal Salvadoran, Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants to remain in this country, many of them in Florida, Bush administration officials say.

But the final decision on the Temporary Protected Status for the three nations, which would force those migrants to return home or remain here illegally and risk deportation, still is under intense debate within the administration, the officials add.

TPS, which bars the deportation of illegal migrants from those countries, was approved for Nicaragua and Honduras after Hurricane Mitch struck them in 1998, and for El Salvador after earthquakes there in 2001 killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed more than 220,000 homes.

TPS was intended to allow illegal migrants from these countries to stay in the United States temporarily and thereby soften the blow of the natural disasters. But today these poor countries rely heavily on remittances sent by their citizens working in the United States.

In the past, TPS renewals—usually for 18-month periods—have been almost routine for the Central Americans. But the mood in the administration and especially in Congress has been changing on immigration issues, as evidenced by the House passage of a bill last year that toughens border controls and cracks down on companies that hire illegal migrants.

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Another official said some government members want to keep TPS or devise “an exit strategy” that would end the program but look for ways to avoid the public relations nightmare of having thousands of Central Americans being deported. DHS is still consulting with State Department and other U.S. agencies before making a final decision, officials added.

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DHS has already been showing signs of taking a harder line on El Salvador, the biggest source of illegal migrants after Mexico. In November, DHS persuaded the Department of Justice to file a motion to end the so-called Orantes injunction, a requirement put in place during the Central American wars of the 1980s, that Salvadorans caught trying to enter the United States illegally must have a hearing before an immigration judge before they can be deported.

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