Latino advocates and legislators from both parties criticized the Trump administration's announcement that it would terminate a program that allows about 3,000 Nicaraguans to stay and work in the U.S. legally as well as delay the decision on whether to extend the program to recipients from Honduras.
In a statement issued Monday night, the Department of Homeland Security said that Nicaraguans with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) have until Jan. 5, 2019 in order to return home or seek a permanent immigration status. Otherwise, they will become undocumented.
TPS, which was first given to Nicaragua and Honduras in 1999 following Hurricane Mitch, seeks to protect people from countries ravaged by natural disasters or civil war. DHS can renew the program for up to 18 months at a time.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke "determined that those substantial but temporary conditions caused in Nicaragua by Hurricane Mitch no longer exist, and thus, under the applicable statute, the current TPS designation must be terminated," the statement said.
But supporters of the program say Nicaraguan TPS holders have deep roots in the community and have been in the country for decades.
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, (R-Fl), is one of several Florida Republicans who had called for an extension of TPS; he criticized the decision in a statement.
"I am deeply pained by and strongly disagree with the decision to phase out the Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguan nationals living in the United States," said Díaz-Balart. "They are hardworking individuals who have substantial roots in this country and have made contributions to our society and local economies."
A bipartisan coalition of legislators led by Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., proposed a bill last week that would grant TPS recipients from Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua a chance to apply for permanent residency.
On Tuesday a group that included immigration and legal advocates criticized the delay in extending TPS to approximately 60,000 Hondurans protected by the program, who will receive TPS until July 2018.
"Every 16 hours there is a woman killed in Honduras," said Oscar Chacón from the Alianza Américas, stating the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world.
As it stands, TPS does not lead to a green card in the first place, but individuals who were covered under the program and meet the normal qualifications can apply to stay and work here permanently.
Congress is the only body with the authority to create a path to permanent legal status for TPS holders.
Trump officials are expected to issue decisions on the future of TPS for 50,000 Haitians in November and 200,000 Salvadorans in January.
In March, DHS extended TPS for Haiti by six months, although many interpreted this move as a sign that they opposed the program and would be terminating it this fall.
"We are looking at the fact that temporary protected status means temporary, and it has not been temporary for many years," DHS spokesman David Lapan said earlier this month. "We, the U.S. government, have created a situation where people have lived in this country a long time."
The presidents of both Honduras and El Salvador have urged the Trump administration to extend the program, citing the contributions that TPS holders make to their economies by sending money home and the destabilizing effects of thousands of people returning.
Nicaragua made no such call to the U.S. government, according to the DHS statement.
Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at Kansas University who studies TPS, said that most Central American immigrants protected by the program have been in the U.S. for about 20 years and are unlikely to leave, regardless of the DHS decision.
"They have roots in this country. They have children here, and mortgages here," she said. "That will send them underground, and make them subject to all sorts of abuses, but also without being able to contribute to the economy in the way they have been."
Belinda Osorio, a Honduran-American who lives and works in Florida and has been in the U.S. for decades through TPS, told reporters at a conference call on Tuesday that she would not put her 14-year-old son in danger by going back to Honduras, regardless of the administration's eventual decision.
"My kids deserve to live in their home country," said Osorio, who works at the Walt Disney resort in Orlando. "I'm not taking my family to a dangerous zone. I'm not leaving."