The U.S. government will suspend a protection extended to some 262,500 citizens of El Salvador who have lived in the United States for nearly two decades, senior administration officials announced Monday morning.
Temporary Protected Status, which shielded hundreds of thousands of nationals from the Central American country from deportation following devastating earthquakes in 2001, will end Sept. 9, 2019.
On that day, those who have lived and worked legally in the United States for nearly two decades will revert to the immigration status they had before they received TPS, if it is still valid. They also have the option to apply for other immigration benefits, like family or work-based visas.
The decision will almost certainly leave some Salvadorans in an undocumented status, making them immediately vulnerable to deportation.
In a regularly-scheduled review of the conditions in El Salvador, the Trump administration determined that the country had recuperated enough from those natural disasters for its nationals in the United States to return, a senior administration official told journalists in a conference call Monday morning.
Despite previous extensions to TPS for Salvadorans that included a link between the natural disasters and the country's struggle with organized crime and violence, the administration official said the Department of Homeland Security weighed only the recovery from the earthquakes, not violence on the ground in its assessment.
Officials on the call, as well as a written statement from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, indicated that the 18-month delay in ending TPS for Salvadorans will allow Congress time to craft a potential legislative solution.
Lawmakers have struggled for years to make substantive changes to the U.S. immigration system, however, and there is little indication on Capitol Hill that any new law would pass in time to salvage Salvadorans affected by Monday's decision.
President Donald Trump is hosting a bipartisan group of senators Tuesday to discuss immigration.
The New York-based Center for Migration Studies said the Salvadorans represent more than 135,000 households, with 88 percent of them in the U.S. workforce.
About a quarter of them live in the west coast state of California and another fifth in the Washington, D.C., area.
Most of the Salvadorans have learned English and about 10 percent of them have married U.S. citizens.
Largest group of TPS holders
Salvadorans - by far the largest group of TPS holders - are the latest casualty in the Trump administration's cuts to the program.
In recent months, DHS declined to renew the special status for Haiti (which will expire July 22, 2019), Nicaragua (which will expire Jan. 5, 2019), and Sudan (which will expire Nov. 2, 2018).
Several more announcements for the remaining six countries covered by TPS are expected in 2018.
Source: Voice of America